April, 2022 - Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 - Cho Nam-Joo

Book Group 2


Kim Ji-young is the main character of this novel, and we follow her throughout her life and how she got to be the way she is in the modern era. She was born in an uneventful household, but there was blatant favouritism in the house towards the youngest son. We follow Kim’s life, from childhood, to college, to her job, then to her married life when she leaves her job to be a stay-at-home mom. As a child she is bullied by the boy who likes her, she goes to college to study marketing, and struggles to break into the workforce because of her gender. We’re clearly meant to sympathize with Kim, because we start out with her being a depressed mother, who has quit her job in order to care for her new-born daughter, and then suddenly, she finds that her life lacks a purpose upon leaving her job. Her sister too gave up on her dreams of broadcast journalism in order to become a teacher, which is what her mother had pushed her towards. Kim and her mother, in the novel, claim that this is because it is truly what her sister wanted. But is it really? A story of true gender inequality and at the heart of the #metoo movement in Korea. This isn’t just fiction. This is the story of many women throughout Korea. She is quite a universal character, despite the novel’s Korean context. Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 is an unsettling novel that's almost dystopian.

Against the backdrop of a changing Korea, we learn how many obstacles still remain for Korean women. Kim serves almost as an "everywoman" in Korean society. The novel showcases the struggles that she and the women around her face in everyday life, highlighting not only her issues but the issues of people around her. This is supposed to be representative of so many women’s experiences, but Kim comes across as a bit naive. And, perhaps, that’s the irony in all of this, that she noticed and saw that so many women weren’t getting to live the lives they truly deserved, but also continued to go down this path of a society built for men. It’s depressing, to see her fall to the system without a fight. Something I also found really interesting was the incorporation of actual statistics and studies from academic studies about the status of women in Korea.

This book sparked a feminist uproar in Korea and also seems to have resonated with a global audience. It is chilling, minimalistic, and disheartening. Yet with a sliver of optimism at the end of the tunnel, even if many things stay the same. This was a short read, it’s a good, and a very important story to tell. It will also be a good case study novel for gender studies.

Our group rated the book 7/10.


Nabila Ahmad