BOOK REVIEW EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ELLA KELLEHER WRITES — South Korea, also known as the ‘cosmetic surgery capital of the world,’ is a spot the place it’s not solely typical however anticipated for younger girls to have double eyelid surgical procedure earlier than they hit thirty. Jaw slimming, pores and skin lasering, harmful weight-reduction plan – these radical approaches to attaining the sweetness customary are sometimes the final resort for Korean girls who wish to be acknowledged in any means in in the present day’s job market. Creator Frances Cha hides nothing in her boldly sincere novel, If I Had Your Face (2020). Cha’s story, deserving of worldwide recognition, follows the tales of 4 girls residing in the identical officetel, battling the impossibly restrictive and infrequently lonely confines made for girls in Korean society.
Frances Cha makes her shining literary debut with If I Had Your Face. Younger, sensible, and a journey and tradition editor for CNN in Seoul, Cha is probably the proper individual to write down about girls’s struggles in Korean society. In a tradition that at instances is brutally aggressive and unapologetically consumerist, merely surviving as an bizarre lady can look like an implausible feat.
Kyuri, described as “painfully plastic,” is a room salon woman. A grim occupation satirically condemned by the very individuals (wealthy and elite males) who make up many of the clientele. Room salon positions are solely out there to the “prettiest 10%,” the place obscenely rich and debauched males deal with their favourite escorts to designer purses and equipment. In fact, most of the women are crippled by unpayable money owed. Kyuri is tethered to what she owes to her madam and feels her flesh slowly breaking down by the nightly binge consuming she is pressured to partake in.
Kyuri shares an residence with Miho, an orphaned artist who, after profitable a scholarship to reside in New York Metropolis, turned deeply concerned with the hyper-wealthy. Cha describes the opulence that surrounds them in a stunning however horrific means. Whereas the staggering riches mesmerize the reader, they will hardly cowl up the heinousness that such a grotesque sum of money yields. Miho vowed to by no means manipulate or use her vibrantly rich connections till Hanbin, her lover, determined to be untrue. “I cannot come out of this with nothing,” Miho assures. Baptized by her trauma, Miho guarantees to “change into a lightning storm, a nuclear apocalypse.”
Ara is a mute hairdresser with a historical past of violence who lives down the corridor. A sufferer of consumerism, she is subjected to working the each day grind alongside merciless coworkers. Ara copes each day with the haunting recollections of the assault that led to her situation and her dad and mom’ obsessive fixation on making an attempt to marry her off. Her solely escape is in her fantasies of Taein, a good-looking Ok-pop star. That’s, till she lastly confronts him in a room salon personal room with Kyuri, just for his supervisor to shout, “What’s up with the standard management! I believed this was a ten p.c! Not a home of amateurs and freaks!” Relegated to an object of laughter and pity, Ara reexperiences the trauma of her previous in vivid element. Nevertheless, the “most tough reminiscence to bear” was not the beating itself however the pity within the eyes of those that rescued her.
Downstairs within the nook lives soon-to-be-mother Wonna, who married her husband just because his mom was lifeless – a morbid but fascinating perception into the poisonous dynamic of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law in Korea. A less-than-worthy partner, Wonna’s husband, lies to her about being jobless whereas she fantasizes about her future little one, who she solely imagines to be a daughter.
Grappling with being pregnant in a corporation-driven enterprise tradition that frowns upon motherhood and paid being pregnant go away, Wonna consoles her worries by daydreaming about her daughter. “You’re a younger lady, maybe the age of these women who reside above me – not that a lot youthful than I’m now. However in contrast to them and in contrast to me, you have a perpetual smile lurking on the corners of your mouth since you’ve had a contented childhood.” In in the present day’s world, the place girls’s rights are being stripped one after the other, a guardian’s biggest want is the happiness and freedom of their little one.
Prosperity and success could appear, at first look, a shining beacon of hope in South Korea’s dazzling capital. Ara, on a drive exterior Seoul, remarks on the constructing of beautiful new excessive rises lining the freeway. “Tons of, no 1000’s of flats, so far-off from the guts of the capital, and but I’ll by no means have the ability to afford a single one, regardless of how a lot I save all my life.” But, for thus many, it stays an unattainable aim for individuals who lack the ‘magic’ that may be a mixture of magnificence, nepotism, and the suitable training. Kyuri, in a second of sullen reflection, explains that usually this results in individuals taking their very own lives. “It’s straightforward to leap when you have no selection.” Individuals would reasonably die than undergo the results of being bizarre.
A novel definitely worth the time and considerate reflection it requires, we readers are left to query – what stays when magnificence inevitably withers away?
LMU English main graduate Ella Kelleher is the e book assessment editor-in-chief and a contributing workers author for Asia Media Worldwide. She majored in English with a focus in multi-ethnic literature.