I feel like I have just been to South Korea and back, all thanks to this stunning debut novel, “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha.
Set in Seoul, the land of K – dramas and pop music, the book follows the lives of four young women – Ara, Sujin, Miho and Kyuri – living together in a tiny apartment complex and their struggles with life. Kyuri is employed as a room salon girl and is obsessed with all things beauty. Sujin dreams of having Kyuri’s good looks so that she can become a room salon girl herself and has been saving enough money for a cosmetic surgery that would do wonders to her face. Ara is a devoted pop idol fan, whose only goal is to meet Taein, the lead singer of a famous music band. Miho seems to have it all – a job as an arts designer and a doting boyfriend from a rich, upper class family but is struggling to keep it all together as she’s battling deep – seated feelings of anxiety and insecurity.
Calling attention to a spectrum of issues such as misogyny and the accompanying sexist attitudes, the routine use of plastic surgery and growing influence of k – beauty industry, infidelity, class struggle, family dynamics and the like, Frances Cha explores how societal expectations and culture affect the way women perceive themselves and make decisions in a deeply patriarchal Korean society.
Very realistically portrayed with characters that are engaging and believable, the book doesn’t follow a conventional narrative structure that involves a beginning, middle and end, which made for a very interesting yet unusual reading experience. I was completely hooked to the story, hungry to learn more about each of the four central characters and eager to know how life was going to pan out for them that I hadn’t even realised when I got to the end. It was only when I turned the page to find the “Acknowledgements” that it occured to me that the book was indeed over. Even at 225 pages, I couldn’t get enough of it and wasn’t ready to part with the characters. Needless to say, I was heartbroken and highly book strung but it was definitely worth the read.
Frances Cha doesn’t offer you any fairytale endings. There are no dramatic plot twists or happily ever afters that is characteristic of most books. Their lives go on just like any of ours. In the end, Sujin, Kyuri, Ara, Wonna and Miho has to live with their choices, go with the flow and enjoy the fleeting moments of happiness in an otherwise monotonous life.
Even days after reading the book, I couldn’t get these characters off my mind. I really wish there would be a sequel. I so badly wanna know what would become of these women? Does Miho exact her revenge? Will Kyuri get accepted to the new job? Will Sujin become a room salon girl? What becomes of Ara and Wonna? I’m hoping there would be a Part Two!
This is a powerful story, beautifully written by a promising new author. I give this book 5/5.