South Korea’s obsession with beauty is explored in this gripping, thought-provoking story following five young women.
Kyuri, Sujin, Ara, Miho, and Wonna live in the same building and each are battling their own demons. Kyuri works in a “room salon;” her beauty is how she makes money but the lifestyle seems to be slowly killing her. Sujin wants desperately to become a room salon girl, but is not traditionally beautiful enough to find a job. Ara is a hairstylist and Sujin’s roommate. She’s mute from an accident early in life and is obsessed with K-Pop. Miho is an artist, a naturally beautiful woman who studied in New York City and is dating an uber wealthy man. And Wonna, newlywed and pregnant, married the first kind man she’s known but is facing deep struggles in her marriage.
I absolutely loved this book for so many reasons. I had never read a book set in South Korea before, and I learned so much. South Korea has incredibly high rates of plastic surgery- one in three South Korean women in their twenties have had plastic surgery. It also has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, but the highest suicide rates. Before reading this book, I knew about South Korean beauty products, but I had no idea how important beauty was to South Korean culture. Granted, this is just one book with one perspective, but it made me want to learn more.
The characters in this book were completely riveting. I loved each one of them. The book alternates chapters between Kyuri, Ara, Miho, and Wonna, but I found myself drawn to Sujin’s storyline. She seemed such a kind, earnest woman with a difficult past, and it was heartbreaking to watch her go through surgery so that she might work as a room salon girl. Likewise, I loved Kyuri’s storyline. The room salon lifestyle is so demanding and often demoralizing, and I felt so deeply for her. Sujin and Kyuri’s storylines together became incredibly heartbreaking. Each character is beautifully drawn, fully realized, and relatable, even as they suffer major traumas. I think Cha was so clever to give each woman her own voice so that we could embody their lives and feel what they feel. I’m still blown away by each character’s story.
The plot moved swiftly in this book, with each character having their own personal conflict while also updating on the other women within their chapter. I loved seeing the women come together to talk and laugh and support each other, especially when their society seems ultra-competitive. Each of these women came from harsh circumstances and found, in each other, strength, hope, and resilience. The story is incredibly moving and one that I will be thinking of for a long time.
Have you read If I Had Your Face? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!