What It’s About:
A debut novel set in contemporary Seoul, Korea, about four young women making their way in a world defined by impossibly high standards of beauty, secret room salons catering to wealthy men, strict social hierarchies, and K-pop fan mania. “Even as a girl, I knew the only chance I had was to change my face… even before a fortune-teller told me so.” Kyuri is a beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood.
Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies.
Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace.
And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy.
Together, their stories tell a tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.Goodreads
If I Had Your Face was a pleasant surprise. It’s been downloaded on my Kindle for about 2 years now and I finally got to read it. So I went in a little blind because I didn’t really remember what it was about anymore. I was expecting to read something that was similar to a K-drama (which I haven’t watched in a very long time) but this book turned out to be so much more than that. It explores the complex lives of women in a way that I’ve never experienced reading before. As a frequent historical fiction reader, it was refreshing to read an emotional story about women in modern times. I’m just going to make a list of all the elements of the book that I was impressed by because there are so many!
- Korean beauty standards
- family relationships and filial piety
- teen gangs and violence
- economic disparity
- salon rooms and prostitution
- pregnancy and miscarriage
- maternity leave
- women in the workplace
There are a few points that affected my rating for If I Had Your Face. First, character driven books are not my go-to type of book. And this book was told from the viewpoints of four very different characters. It was tough to keep each of their stories straight and some were more interesting than others. Wonna was my favorite because she was the one I could most closely relate to. The ending of the book was also a bit underwhelming. I had to read it a few times to make sure I didn’t miss something.
I seem to have a thing for emotional stories about women trying to survive in the world around them. I often gauge my ratings based on whether I discuss the book with my husband (lol) and I did share some of the topics from the story with him. It opened up some interesting conversations. If I Had Your Face would definitely be a good title for a book club discussion. There are even discussion questions included at the end of the book. The interview with Frances Cha (also included at the end) was insightful because it helped me understand her experiences and inspiration for writing the book.