Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an orphan and always need to prove yourself to the world? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to lose your voice and having to adjust to whole new life, a whole new world around you? Or having to do anything in order to support yourself and your family, even when that “everything” encompasses selling your own body?
«If I Had Your Face» is a debut novel, set in modern-day Seoul, South Korea, following four different women who live in the same apartment building. There is Ara, the girl who lost her voice and works in a hair salon while sharing her apartment with her childhood friends Sujin. Kyuri, the girl who works in a “room salon” [completely different from the hair salon!], a prostitute who made it to the top of that industry. Miho, an artist who is dating one of the wealthiest heirs in Korea. And finally, Wonna, the wife whose relationship is going through a rough time.
A glitteringly dark and unsettling debut novel about four young women struggling to survive in South Korea
If I Had Your Face plunges us into the mesmerizing world of contemporary Seoul – a place where extreme plastic surgery is as routine as getting a haircut, where women compete for spots in secret ‘room salons’ to entertain wealthy businessmen after hours, where K-Pop stars are the object of all-consuming obsession, and ruthless social hierarchies dictate your every move.
Navigating this hyper-competitive city are four young women balancing on the razor-edge of survival: Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive ‘room salon’ is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hair stylist living down the hall, whose infatuation with a fresh-faced K-Pop star drives her to violent extremes.
Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Books UK, Viking, for a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and not influenced by the company or its affiliates in any way.
In «If I Had Your Face» Frances Cha explores one of the most popular and controversial subjects of modern-day Korea – appearances and plastic surgery. According to many media outlets, South Korea is going through a plastic surgery boom, having the highest number of cosmetic procedures per capita. In fact, South Korea has become so famous for their K-beauty surgeries that it’s one of the top destinations for everyone around the world who is looking to perfect their features – eyes, noses, and chins, in a matter of months (maybe a year) you’ll have that perfect Korean face everyone has been so obsessed about.
If even outside of Korea, we hear a lot about that trend, I can’t honestly imagine the pressure of publicity in Seoul or other larger South Korean cities.
I think this book has come out at a perfect time, to not only raise awareness but also spread the word about the potential “normalcy” of plastic surgeries. It’s slowly becoming a day-to-day necessity for women to change their features, not only for health or self-esteem reasons, but also to get more attention to their careers and boost their income.
No matter how much progress we’ve made in the last 50-60 years, women are still very often judged by their looks. I think plastic surgeries are a great tool to use for health reasons, which can be physical or mental health. If a smaller nose or less protruded chin will make someone’s life that much better than that’s the way to go. But I hate seeing plastic surgeries as a marketing tool for career growth, for conquering your place in the misogynistic world!
I also want to highlight that France Cha doesn’t directly attack the K-pop or K-beauty in her book. She lets the readers decide for themselves while providing different perspectives on the subject. While Kyuri went through numerous plastic surgeries and became addictive to the “easy” change of appearance to climb up the ladder in the prostitution business, becoming a part of the top 10% of that industry, when your Madam doesn’t pressure you for a second round of sex with the client. She tries to make Sujin see what it’s like to get sucked into that world of beauty.
Sujin is not one of the main characters, but we hear so much about her from Ara and Kyuri that I feel like she deserved a PoV of her own. She actually might be the most ambitious and level-headed of all of these girls. She believes that a little chin surgery will completely change her life and Kyuri warnings won’t stand on her way to “happiness”.
It was interesting to follow these 4 very different girls in their day-to-day life. Frances Cha created very real and unique characters. And even though the story is told from the first perspective, you could immediately see whose story you were following. Each one of them had a very distinct voice and qualities.
I could keep rambling on and on about this book, but to not bore you all, I’ll just say that if you love character-driven Literary Fiction and want to learn more about Asian (more specifically, South Korean) modern-day culture, this book will be perfect!
It reads very quickly, and from the very beginning, you’ll route for the girls and won’t be able to put this book down.
Have you read this book or any other that focuses on K-beauty topic in modern-day Korea? Let me know in the comments below!