A sensation in the author's native South Korea, this charts the life of the eponymous Kim Jiyong from birth to age 33, when she is treated for post-natal depression. In economical prose it tells of a life constantly devalued and undermined by a society that places the value of men far above that of women. As she moves from school and predatory male teachers; to work, where she is overlooked for promotion; to marriage, where she is forced to give up her career for a life of domesticity. Uncompromising and powerful, this shows hidden misogyny in sharp relief.
But the book is an international bestseller because it describes experiences that will be recognisable everywhere. Its slim, unadorned narrative distils a lifetime’s iniquities into a sharp punch. And at its best, the book demonstrates the unfairness of the female experience and the sheer difficulty of improving it. Cho shrewdly presents Jiyoung’s husband, for example, as a good man who is nonetheless complicit in her subjugation, and shows how Jiyoung, a feminist, will compromise on her principles when practicality requires. The problem is that Cho prioritises argument over character, and seems to be more concerned with disseminating facts than devising fiction.