If I Had Your Face By Francesca Cha | Book Review

I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face

pg. 38

If I Had Your Face

Edition Hardcover, 288 pages

Publication Date: April 21st 2020 by Ballantine Books

Original Title: If I Had Your Face

ISBN: 0593129466 (ISBN13: 9780593129463)

Goodreads Blurb:

A riveting debut novel set in contemporary Seoul, Korea, about four young women making their way in a world defined by impossibly high standards of beauty, secret room salons catering to wealthy men, strict social hierarchies, and K-pop fan mania.

“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 they1 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. 

This novel tells the story of four different women, their lives and their perspectives towards South Korea’s beauty standards. As a fan of K-pop and K-dramas, I had a general understanding of how different the beauty standards and woman’s positions in modern day society was in Korean culture. Generally, western society is more open to women’s rights, changing gender norms, individuality etc. On the other hand, South Korea seems to adhere to a much more conservative and traditional outlook. Their society tends to look down on changes, however in recent years there seems to be a trend towards improvement.  

My general understanding of “beauty standards” culture is that beauty is almost your entire identity, and it obviously matters greatly how you look. The jobs you get, and the way people treat you are based on how pretty you are. It’s a horrific reality that many women face today. Good looking people are placed on a higher pedestal than those who aren’t as attractive. It’s as simple as that. And it exists in the world that we live in today.

All the characters in this book were all their own person– different personalities, dreams, aspirations etc. But one thing they all had in common was their absolute reluctance to allow anything to hinder their goals. And I loved it. I loved seeing them flourish and overcome their individuality, so by the end of the book you cannot NOT root for them. I guess my only “critic” is that I wished we had gotten to learn more of the women as individuals outside of the main themes. There might have been too many stories to tell, and too many problems to address that the characters lacked depth. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I did enjoy reading this book. ‘If I Had Your Face’ provide some insight for outsiders, like me, about the side of South Korea’s culture that a mere fan of Korean music is not aware of.

I guess behind the the bright lights of K-Pop idols, Korean makeup, fashion, K-Dramas and Korean films, there is a grittier underbelly that needs to be addressed, and I am glad that this book allows us to open up that conversation. This book was not afraid to address sexism, societal expectations and patriarchal suppression, as well as the suffocating beauty standards that society, in many different parts of the world, as a whole place on girls and boys from a very young age. I would highly recommend giving this book a try if you are interested in the darker side of beauty standards– especially in a culturally relevant, modern day setting. What a stunning debut novel by Francesca Cha!

3 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read ‘If I Had Your Face’ by Francesca Cha? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

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