My thanks to Simon and Schuster UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is a 2016 Korean novel, now translated into English (besides other languages). This hard-hitting novel has sold over a million copies, and was also adapted into a film that released in October this year. The book traces the story of Kim Ji-Young, the title character, from the year she was born, 1982, to 2016 highlighting the sexism, discrimination and injustice she faces at every stage of her life [The author, a former scriptwriter for television, in fact, said that Ji-Young’s life wasn’t much different from her own]. Ji-Young is the second daughter in the family of a lower-level government servant. Her mother is a housewife who also takes up an assortment of jobs from home to supplement her husband’s income, having had to give up on her own education and work in her youth so that her brothers could get the best educations. Ji-Young of course has a ‘better’ time in that she does get an education, as best as her parents can afford, and even goes to university, and has a chance at a career (though not for long), but at every stage be it as a child growing up, to school, to interviewing for a job, getting one, and having to give it up, she is impacted in some way or other by sexism, having to share where her younger brother doesn’t, having to accept being secondary, being looked over despite being qualified simply because she is a woman, whether for a job or inclusion in a team at work, having to give up her career for her child, and having fingers pointed at her for everything, whether it be her fault or not, mostly the latter. However, there is a little hope too in the story. Ji-Young’s mother, despite and also perhaps because of having faced worse in her life, does stand up for her daughters at times, and tries within her constraints to ensure that they do not have to give up their dreams as she did. Others girls and women who Ji-Young encounters (at school and work) too sometimes take a stand, rather than accepting things quietly, winning for themselves and others small victories. But despite all that, at the end one realises that there is still very long to go before much of this changes, and many will still have to walk the same path, face the same life as Ji-Young. (The final sentences will definitely shake you.)
I found the book to be a very impactful one, and while set in Korean society, some (actually most) of these forms of discrimination and sexist behaviour aren’t restricted to that country, so the truths it brings one face to face with would resonate with many. I was also quite surprised with how fast the book moved—of course, it is a short read (under 170 pages in the edition I had), but still it moves well, and it doesn’t ‘feel’ like a translation at all (The translator is Jamie Chang). Some reviews of the book I read mention how the book uses a rather dry tone. Partly I do agree with this, as it certainly does that, and in addition, the footnotes supporting different facts make it feel somewhat like non-fiction at times, but on the other hand, the tone I felt is explained once one gets to the end of the book and realises who the narrator is, and what it is one is supposed to be reading. Well worth a read, for everyone. Four and a half stars!