Book Review: “If I Had Your Face,” Frances Cha

“I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face.”

Nestled in the beginning of this debut novel is the line from which the title was drawn, and it asks some impossible questions from its characters.

The first time I started reading this, I couldn’t tell the characters apart, and every time I started to figure out just who was talking, the chapter (and perspective) would change. It took me living in Korea for almost a year for things to click. This book is doing very well on the market, so I’m not sure if this initial unfamiliarity with the culture was a hindrance to others, or just me.

There’s a lot, living here in Korea, that is accurately represented in the book. My facebook feed is filled with sponsored ads for discount tummy tucks and facial botox. The pressure to look a certain way, have a certain face, seems embedded in the younger culture to the point where a kindergarten student of mine had his mom ask us to remove his glasses and apply double eyelid tape before any yearbook pictures were taken. He’s 7.

So for these girls, going through what they’re going through in the book… Yeah, it’s definitely believable. You can feel it, even if you can’t fully understand their intentions. It can be a bit jarring, bouncing back and forth between perspectives, but Cha manages to pull it off rather effortlessly (or so the reader thinks; us writers know better).

One of my favorite lines in the novel is: “But she makes a lot of money and saves a lot of it too, unlike other room salon girls apparently—or anyone our age for that matter—and it’s hard not to respect her for that. Kyuri doesn’t drink Starbucks.” Ouch. I felt that.

All in all, Cha is an extremely promising writer who has managed to take the lives of several Korean women and paint them with all their imperfections and flaws. My only qualm about the novel is how it ended with loose threads–I wanted something more. One can say that’s almost part of the point: that these individual women are still in the midst of living their lives and we know no more than they do what the next day will hold, but I wonder what the stories could have been if it had, instead, been individual short stories that were interwoven, rather than a novel. (A la “Winesburg, Ohio.”) I look forward to seeing what else Cha has up her sleeve.

If I Had Your Face: Auditioning for My Own Novel’s Audiobook

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

“That’s what I am: gum someone spat out.”

In 2019, the film “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” swept Korean cinemas to mixed reviews. Not surprisingly, this tale of an ordinary woman in her 30s polarized audiences among gender lines: the women loved it, and the men hated it. But why?

I have yet to see the movie, but I did pick up the ebook as soon as it was released. One of my Korean co-teachers, when I told her that I was reading it, commented that “Jiyoung” was a popular name for those born in the early 80s, making it similar to calling a girl from my generation “Sarah” or “Brittany.”

Beyond the plot line, this book is interesting for the facts that it weaves into the story, such as “women working in Korea earn only 63 percent of what men earn; the OECD average percentage is 84.13.”

I find that this article from the BBC does a good job reviewing the book and its importance. I do wish that more had been explored concerning “molka,” or the practice of secretly filming women and posting the videos online, as it’s become a huge issue in the last few years as part of the Burning Sun scandal. Sadly, as time goes on, there will only be more and more issues that women in South Korea will have to endure.

“Jiyoung became different people from time to time. Some of them were living, others were dead, all of them women she knew. No matter how you looked at it, it wasn’t a joke or a prank. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that person.