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An Extract From Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Posted on 18th February 2020 by Mark Skinner

A landmark publication in Cho Nam-Joo's native country, where it kickstarted a nascent #MeToo movement, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 throws a grenade under the appalling misogyny and paternalism of South Korean society. Read the extract below to discover why everyone is talking about this incendiary novel.  

Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, or thirty-four in Korean age. She got married three years ago and had a daughter last year. She rents a small apartment on the outskirts of Seoul with her husband Jung Daehyun, thirty-six, and daughter Jung Jiwon.  Daehyun  works at a mid-size IT company, and Jiyoung used to work at  a small marketing agency, which she left a few weeks before her due date. Daehyun usually comes home from work around midnight and goes into the office at least once on weekends. Daehyun’s parents live in  Busan, and Jiyoung’s parents run a restaurant, making Jiyoung her daughter’s sole carer. Just after Jiwon turned one in the summer, she started daycare as a half-day infant. She spends her mornings at a converted ground-floor apartment daycare centre in the same apartment complex where she lives.

Jiyoung’s abnormal behaviour  was  first  detected  on 8 September. Daehyun remembers the exact date because it was the morning of baengno (‘white dew’), the first night of autumn when the temperature drops below dew point. Daehyun was having toast and milk for breakfast when Jiyoung suddenly went to the veranda and opened the window. It was quite sunny out, but the cold  air rushed in as soon as the window was opened and reached the kitchen table where Daehyun was sitting.

Jiyoung returned to the table with her shoulders hunched and, as she sat down, said, ‘I knew there was a little nip in the air these past few mornings, and today’s baengno! White morning dew on fields of gooold, on bae- ngno when the nights grow cooold.’

Daehyun laughed at his wife, who was talking like a much older woman.

‘What’s up with you? You sound  like  your  mum.’

‘Take a light jacket with you, Jung seoba-ahng. There’s a chill in the mornings and evenings.’

Even then, he thought she was just joking  around. Her imitation of her mother was flawless, down to her signature right-eye wink when she was asking for a favour, and the elongated last syllable of ‘Jung seobang’. He had found her staring off into space or crying over sad songs, but Daehyun figured she was just exhausted from taking care of the baby. She was basically a cheerful person, full of laughter, who often made Daehyun laugh by doing impressions of celebrities. So Daehyun shrugged off Jiyoung’s imitation of her mother, gave her a hug and went to work.

When Daehyun came back from work that night, she was sleeping next to their daughter. Both were sucking their thumbs, looking cute but absurd. Gazing at the two side by side, he tugged at his wife’s arm to pull her thumb out of her mouth. Jiyoung’s tongue stuck out a little and she smacked her lips, just like a baby, and then settled back into sleep.

A few days later, Jiyoung said that she was Cha Seungyeon, a college friend who had died a year before. Seungyeon and Daehyun started college the same year and Jiyoung had been their junior by three years. All three were members of the same university hiking club. However, Jiyoung and Daehyun didn’t know each other in college. Daehyun wanted to go on to graduate school, but had to give up due to family circumstances. After he completed his third year of university, he took time off to belatedly fulfil his military service, after which he returned to his home in Busan to work part-time for a year. Jiyoung had entered college and was an active hiking club member during his time away.

Seungyeon had always been good to  her  fellow female club members, on top of which she and Jiyoung had something in common: they didn’t actually enjoy hiking. They became friends and kept in  touch  and  met up  frequently  even  after  Seungyeon  graduated.  In fact, Seungyeon’s wedding reception was the very occasion on which Daehyun and Jiyoung met for the first time. Seungyeon died giving birth to her second child due to an amniotic fluid embolism. Jiyoung was suffering from postpartum depression when she heard about Seungyeon’s death, and the shocking news  on  top of everything else made it hard for her to handle everyday tasks.

After their daughter had gone to sleep, the couple relaxed and drank some beers, something they hadn’t done in a while. When Jiyoung had almost finished a  can of beer, she tapped her husband on the shoulder and abruptly said, ‘Hey, Jiyoung is having a hard time. Raising a toddler is emotionally draining. You should tell her every chance you get: You’re doing great! You’re working so hard! I appreciate you!’

‘Are you astral-projecting, hon? Fine, fine. Yes, you’re doing great, Kim Jiyoung. I know that you’re going through a tough time. I appreciate you and I love you.’ Daehyun lovingly pinched her cheek, but she swatted his hand away, irritated.

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