#SurvivalStories2021 Adult Award-Winning Books Genre Lifespan of a Reader Literary Fiction Reading Themes Stories Of The Dispossessed

Portrayal Of Gender As A Form Of Dispossession

... in Cho Nam-Joo's "Kim JiYoung, Born 1982."


Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Cho Nam-Joo Translated by Jamie Chang
Published by Scribner (2020, first published 2016). Original Title: 82년생 김지영
ISBN: 1471184285 (ISBN13: 9781471184284). Bought a copy of the book.

While this book does not necessarily touch on themes related to refugees and (im)migration, it speaks eloquently about the portrayal of gender as a form of dispossession. The back blurb as well as the inside of the jacketflap are quite effective in pushing this book up my TBR stack.

As I was reading the story, I realized that this actually goes beyond mere dispossession. The story surfaces how women are rendered invisible, powerless, and mere objects owned by another. It is a story that angered me; but it was a futile, resigned sort of emotion: one that I feel I share with a lot of Southeast Asian women. I felt that the first part of the novel was quite strong, as it effectively set the stage for the many experiences of inequality, oppression, and outright violence that South Korean women experience as per normal.

There is muted anger here, that is almost staccato like in its insistence; one episode after another surfacing male privilege. There is the obliviousness of fathers and boyfriends and husbands; the sense of entitlement of men in positions of power who feel that exploiting women is their God-given right; the perpetuation of female subjugation framed as a form of maternal sacrifice or cast in the light of a pampered housewife fully supported and living off her husband’s hard work.

I was hoping that the first part would touch on a bit of the crazy and the supernatural, a surreal brew of wresting power back through madness. However, the story shifted entirely and unfolded from a different vantage point altogether, revealed towards the latter part of the novel as spoken by a male psychiatrist’s voice – which didn’t exactly work for me. I would have preferred that the aspects of what it’s like to be totally unhinged were more carefully elucidated and examined from a dispossessed woman’s lens.

I felt that the author may have needed to take several steps back to detach herself from her own narrative, making the story feel more like an academic treatise with all the footnotes. While they were very interesting and definitely relevant, I felt the author may have felt she needed to make those insertions to afford the story a level of credibility; which frankly she didn’t really need to do. I felt that it would have worked better if those footnotes had been written as part of a detailed Afterword, rather than having to interrupt the reader every now and again with all the asides. The resulting detached manner of storytelling made me feel that the author was attempting to surgically cut open a wound, yet does not really wish to get her hands bloodied with all the ugly innards, just gingerly poking and prodding from the outside.

Regardless, this was a very quick read for me (less than a week). It left me feeling exhausted with the mere idea of being a woman. A necessary read.


#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 33 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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