Hmmm. This is a tough review to write really, as it’s fair to say I had mixed feelings about it. More of that later; first, let me fill you in on the story’s premise. Kim Jiyoung’s paternal grandparents wanted a boy. When they finally got their wish with Kim Jiyoung’s younger brother, he was treated in a far superior way to the protagonist and her sister.
The second-class citizen status followed Kim Jiyoung to school where male teachers prey on her. Despite being a good student, she’s passed over for internships in favour of her less hard-working male counterparts. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee too but when promotion opportunities arise… yes, you’ve guessed it, her male colleagues are promoted instead. When Kim Jiyoung gets married and has a baby, she gives up her independence and her career to be a full time mother while her husband continues his life largely uninterrupted. That’s just the way things are.
Kim Jiyoung is a devoted wife and daughter-in-law, so imagine the surprise of her husband and his family when she starts speaking as if she is someone else, using the same scathing phrases to her in-laws that it is acceptable to be used towards a young wife and mother. And yet, Kim Jiyoung’s life is not unusual; it’s every woman’s life in South Korea.
And that, my bookworm friends, is why I loathed this book. And yet I found it fascinating too. As I read it I felt angry, frustrated and dejected. I actually slammed the book shut and scowled at it for a while when Kim Jiyoung is harrassed and frightened by a man, only for the blame to be squarely put on her shoulders.
I live in the UK where, in my opinion, there is still room for improvement in equality of the sexes. When I found out that Cho Nam-Joo based her book to an extent on her own experiences, it made me realise how lucky I am in comparison to other parts of the world where misogyny of the scale described is still socially accepted.
I found the writing quite dry, to the point of feeling like a textbook at times, influenced in part by the footnotes with statistical information. So I wouldn’t describe this as a relaxing holiday read; I would instead describe it as a challenge, an eye opener, a book to fuel your frustration… but a book which I’ll be recommending my daughter reads when she’s a bit older so she understands just how lucky she is to have the rights that she has.
I understand that there have been some positive changes since the childhood described and I truly hope that this continues at pace. Finally, a shout out to the translator, Jamie Chang, for making this book accessible to native English speakers.