Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

by Cho Nam-Ju, translated by Jamie Chang
First sentence: “Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, thirty-four Korean age.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 14, 2020
Content: There’s some swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

This is the story of one Korean woman, and how she get to the point, a year after giving birth, where she’s impersonating (but is she really?) other women. Something I didn’t know until the end: it’s told through the eyes of a psychologist/psychiatrist that Jiyoung goes to see, presumably because of her condition. She tells this psychiatrist about her life, from a childhood where she and her older sister were mostly neglected in favor of their younger brother, through school where she was often harassed by boys, to the workplace where she was often treated by men as a servant. She just decided it was her lot, and did the best she could, though there were women — including, eventually, her mother — who were telling her life could be different. Jiyoung gave up working when she had her baby, mostly because it was too hard to juggle daycare and a full-time job and her husband wasn’t terribly supportive.

This was just a portrait of one life, albeit one that had quite a few run-ins with the patriarchal system of Eastern Asia. It was a sad little book — sad that Jiyoung was never really encourage to do much of anything, sad that the lives of women still revolve around the men and boys. It’s odd too, it had footnotes (which makes more sense knowing it’s psychiatrist notes) and an odd cadence. It’s not a story I read to really connect with the characters, though much of that Jiyoung went through was relatable. But, even though we got the facts of her life, I felt like we never really got to know her. Although I appreciated the insight into contemporary Korean culture, I just felt disconnected through the book.

Oh, and the author got epidurals wrong, which is a small thing, but an annoyance all the same.

I do appreciate that this book exists, if only to highlight the sexism and misogyny in countries other than the United States. But, no, I didn’t find it enjoyable.

Bad Feminist

badfeministby Roxane Gay
First sentence: “The world changes faster than we can fathom in ways that are complicated.”
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Content: There’s fewer than 6 f-bombs, and some other mild swearing. And there’s a whole chapter on 50 Shades of Gray which is frank, but not explicit. It’s in the Sociology section of the bookstore.

I really don’t know what compelled me to pick this up. It’s been on my radar for a while, and I always figured I’d get to it, but why now?  No idea.

I’m glad I did, though.

In this series of essays, Gay takes on not only feminism (the Establishment) but race relations, sexism, culture, and Scrabble. (Well, there’s only one essay on Scrabble.) She’s insightful about relationships, critical about the State of Culture, but most of all, open and honest about the fact that she’s conflicted. She laments the lack of people of color on TV but is critical of the idea of diversity for Diversity’s Sake. (She’s not all that impressed with Orange is the New Black. It’s still a white woman’s story and the diverse characters are often stereotypes.) She admits to finding Blurred Lines catchy, while being disgusted at the content. There’s a whole chapter about the disturbing nature of 50 Shades of Grey while addressing the fact that its popularity shouldn’t be dismissed.

And it was this conflict I found I connected with. Because I’m a conflicted feminist. I don’t live up to Establishment Ideals. And it’s so refreshing to hear the voice of someone outside the establishment — in this case, a first-generation Haitian woman — stand up and say that there’s room in feminism for those of us who don’t fit the mold.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but I need to get this one. There’s an awful lot I need to underline and mark up, and it’s definitely one I want all my girls to read.