Short and Powerful: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

The world is too big for one to just read works written in the English language. Fortunately, with technology and more people being bilingual at the least, there are more books now that have been written in an original language and translated to English.

This means that we’ve long graduated from books written by Asian-American (or Asian-Western in general) authors writing about what it’s like for a second-generation immigrant to assimilate and adapt to their parents’ adopted home and the plight of their parents and forefathers as well.

Not that it doesn’t matter. It is still important to this day to be able to read immigrant-themed /POV books no matter where the writer is from. All I’m saying is it’s a wonderful thing that now more than ever, we are able to read translated books from international writers written in their native language.

It’s a good time to put yourself in the shoes of someone in their respective home country and see what social and cultural issues they face.

Such as being a 30-something female in South Korea.

Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.

Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.

Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.

Kim Jiyoung is a model employee who gets overlooked for promotion.

Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.

Kim Jiyoung has started acting strangely.

Kim Kiyoung is depressed.

Kim Jiyoun is mad

Kim Jiyoung is her own woman.

Kim Jiyoung is every woman.

Translated from Korean to English by Jamie Chang, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 reads like a case study or a special documentary about a typical working-class South Korean woman. In our case, it is Ms. Kim Jiyoung.

The name Kim Jiyoung was the most common name given to girls born in the early 80’s, and as the story doesn’t give much focus on Kim Jiyoung’s physical appearance + the fact that all cover versions of this novel feature a faceless woman, Kim Jiyoung is every woman in South Korea (or anywhere in the world for that matter) facing gender bias that has been pervasively embedded in society and culture since birth.

The book, 163 pages in all, is divided into Childhood (1982-1994), Adolescence (1995-2000), Early Adulthood (2001-2011) and Marriage (2012-2015). In every chapter, we are taken through Kim Jiyoung’s journey as the second of two daughters in a middle-class family, her daily experience as a female student in a co-ed school, to being one of the few female members in a hiking club in University, getting her first job after graduation, all the way to the early years of her marriage and being a mother.

Much like most things Korean, the style of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is wonderfully direct and void of unnecessary flair or drama. Kim Jiyoung’s life experiences and ordeal are corroborated every now and again with actual facts taken from surveys about gender inequality in South Korea.

It has a very quiet, quirky documentary feel about it, which makes me surprised (ok a little disappointed) to see that the movie adaptation’s trailer seems more like a sappy drama than the no-nonsense, powerful vibe of the book. (all thanks to mood and the coldplay-ish sappy background music)

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is a work of fiction but it sure feels very real.

I worked in South Korea circa 2005-ish and as I was born 1981, the book gave answers to some questions I’d been carrying through the decades about the South Korean culture when it comes to male and female roles.

This is easily one of the shortest yet most powerful fiction I’ve read in a while.

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