Frances Cha | April 2020 | 288 pages
GoodReads Summary: “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 heartbreakingly 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 gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.
My Experience: 2020 has definitely been my year of great diverse reads. I’m very pleased with the books I’ve read outside of my typical horror/suspense genre. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Winter Garden, A Burning and Heavy are all great examples! Click the links and check out those reviews!
If I Had Your Face follows 4 young women living in an apartment building in South Korea. The stories of each of the women centers on their experiences with class, inequality, falling very short of local standards of beauty.
What I didn’t know was, in real life, South Korea is known as the plastic surgery capital of the world! Light research showed that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 19 and 30 will have plastic surgery. The most popular surgery is blepharoplasty: a crease is placed in the eyelid to give the appearance of a wider eye. This is notable because as I started reading the book, I realized that all the woman had some deep feelings about thier physicial appearance and how their appearance may negatively impact thier potential to be successful.
Kyuri is a very smart, ambitious and pragmatic young woman, seemingly at peace with her choices. She started as an average prostitute but, because of all her beauty enhancing plastic surgery, she now works in a coveted ‘10 percent room salon’. Called so because, supposedly, only the top 10% of beautiful girls can work in the rooms. A room salon sounds like a glorified brothel to me. A place rich men go to feel important around pretty women. They expect the women to drink heavily with them and though, I don’t think, directly mentioned, sex is certainly implied. If they fail to drink and make the men happy, the brothel leaders can be torturous. Kyuri doesn’t like her job there, but acknowledges its the fastest and laziest way to make money quickly. To that end, she’s fallen into a seemingly revolving credit trap of working, to afford surgeries, that allow her to work. 🤦🏾♀️ I think we meet her as she is starting to realize that she has greater dreams beyond the room salon but, is yet unsure how to get out of the cycle of plastic surgery and reach her goals.
Sujin idolizes Kyuri. She longs to look like a K-pop star and work with Kyuri in the salons. We meet her as she is prepping for her first surgery, the most common and dangerous. She will have her jaw broken, shaved and reset, in order to gain the coveted heart shaped face. She’ll spend months in recovery. Kyuri has thoughts of telling her not to do it but also realizes it may be Sujins only hope to rise above her class. Sujin is an orphan like her roommate, Miho.
Miho arrived at the orphanage by way of family that gave her up once they managed to have a child of their own. Sad story, but Miho survives the orphanage and even preserves, getting a valuable scholarship to study art abroad in New York. She returns to Korea with a wealthy and controlling boyfriend and his mother that refuses to acknowledge her. She realizes the relationship will likely not go far because of her low class and unwillingness to have surgeries.
Last but not least we have Ara, Kyuri’s voluntarily, mute roommate. She’s seemingly a pretty good hairstylist with celebrity clients but, sabotages her career by refusing to speak due to a school age trauma.
Pros: I really enjoyed learning about each girl’s journey. It was an interesting fictional introduction to a culture I’d never known. I think Kyuri was my favorite character. She’s written with a hard exterior: super pragmatic about what she does for a living and her likely future, very calculating and confident about managing those around her, yet, she takes full responsibility for caring for and protecting Ara. Paying the rent and buying food when Ara comes up short and even encouraging Ara to confront her past in order to heal.
Cons: Im not sure I understand how these woman allow(ed) themselves to get immersed in this culture?! They’re all educated and have been exposed to different cultures that did not support such high and unobtainable standards of beauty. Why subject yourself to this? I also didn’t fully understand Ara’s trauma. The girls visit her hometown and witness her reconnecting with an old mentor and her memories of the event are told. Personally, after such a buildup, the ‘incident’ didn’t seem that life altering to me. It basically sounded like a fight. You ain’t speaking because you lost a fight? 🙄 Girl bye. Get a therapist, cry a river and move on.
A very intriguing story, made more so when I discovered women are actually living like this, right now, in Korea. It immediately gave me a different perspective on all those Korean photo apps that offer edits to lighten skin, widen eyes, widen the cheek and narrow the nose and chin. I always thought it was to mimic a cartoon character! No one looks like that in real life. Meanwhile in Seoul… 🤦🏾♀️ Really great book that opens up to a whole different world. GoodBook 22 of 42!