I was born in 1981 so I wanted to read this book since I felt it might talk about being born in the 1980s. I am the founder of the 81 Club after all: the 8 stands for infinity, the 1 stands for being number 1! However, this book didn't really talk about that.
I felt like this book was like a case study about the contemporary treatment of women in South Korea, which is to say, very poor! Main character, Kim Joyoung works really hard, but because of her gender, she is given menial and difficult jobs, like working with the most stressful clients, while her men counterparts get easy clients so that they don't get stressed out. They give the stressful clients to the women with the expectation that the women are going to leave the workforce anyway once they have kids, so they are assigned the hardest jobs.
There are even the occasional footnotes in this book as an exclamation point to show that the fiction here isn't truly fiction at all, such as on page 112: "The gender pay gap in Korea is the highest among the OECD countries. According to 2014 data, women working in Korea earn only 63 percent of what men earn; the OECD average percentage is 84."
What's interesting here is also the juxtaposition of the protagonist and her mother. Her mother was also a stay at home parent, but behind the scenes, her mother was investing the money that she saved from her husband, buying real estate and renting out property. When her husband loses his job, they take one of her properties and run a business. The husband meets with his former colleagues later on, and is happy how successful he's become, but later on the wife reminds him that it's 80% thanks to her.
Kim Jiyoung, meanwhile, has the support of her mother to follow her dreams. She is encouraged to study what she likes at school. She tries to break the glass ceiling head on, but she is met with disappointment. On p112: "Conscientiously and calmly, she was searching for a way out that didn't exist to begin with. Baffled and ready to give up, she was told to try, try again; to walk through walls if it came to that. Revenue drives a businessman, and you can't blame someone for wanting to maximize output with minimum input. But is it right to prioritize short-term efficiency and balance sheets? Who''ll be the last ones standing in a world with these priorities, and will they be happy?"
However, despite her degree, the path towards a career is not easy, Kim Jiyoung even gets asked questions at an interview, how would she react to being sexually harassed. Eventually she lands a job and gets married. However, because of her low income, it doesn't make sense for her to hire a babysitter, so she stays home. When going to the park one day with her kid, she overhears one of the men in the park saying how he wishes he could just relax at home while the husband works all day. Eventually, these things add up and she develops a condition. It's interesting to compare Kim Jiyoung's life to that of her mother's. It's also eye-opening to see all these subtle ways that women are being put down.
I thought this was a highly-readable book, and being a white male, it's easy for me to take certain things for granted. Below is the movie trailer, since it was released into a movie last year in 2019!