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 ManiaEven 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 LivelihoodHer 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 CompaniesDown 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 CommonplaceAnd 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 EconomyTogether, 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 If I Had Your Face is a searing debut that follows five young women living in the fringes of South Korean society, each struggling to make a living for themselves Few books that claim to tackle misogyny are as successfully unrelenting as this one is it s a bleak read, but also a beautiful one This seems to be pitched as a book about the Korean beauty industry, which it is and it isn t plastic surgery and makeup mostly litter the background of a couple of the narratives, as Cha focuses instead on the women who are actively harmed by cruel and unrealistic beauty standards This book s main asset has to be the characters it s also been a while since I ve read anything with characters this convincing Of the five protagonists, four of them alternate first person point of view chapters, and each of their voices is so distinctive I never had trouble remembering whose head I was inhabiting, which tends to be a common pitfall of similarly structured fiction Narratively, this falls a bit short it wraps up rather quickly and at the point where it ends, you feel like it could keep going for at least another 150 pages One of the characters arcs felt unfinished to me And a few of the book s key events feel rushed, even before the end But despite that, my impression of this book is largely favorable I don t think I ll forget this in a hurry, and I can t wait for whatever Frances Cha does next Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review. If the purpose of a book is to take you to a place you ve never been, then this one fulfilled that role Seoul, Korea and the young girls trying to make their way in a competitive world where beauty is the sole focus and plastic surgery is the norm This book is just heartbreaking right from the get go It delves into the lives of five young women that live in the same apartment building We hear from four of them, in alternating chapters This book was a real eye opener for me I knew about the consumerism and boy band fetish But I hadn t realized what a strict class system Korea has, despite being a capitalist society And while in some ways modern, in other ways Korean society remains extremely misogynistic This is a character driven book It reminds me of Elizabeth Strout s style of writing The chapters overlap and the characters interact, but the chapters aren t linear or tightly joined together These weren t necessarily women I could relate to and I definitely didn t like some of them But yet, each one touched my heart Their lives are so tough And this isn t a story that gives you happy endings for them This novel is extremely polished and doesn t come across as a debut novel My thanks to netgalley and Random House for an advance copy of this book. wow i just adored this book it s very slice of life, but i found myself just falling in love with each of the girls and hoping for the best for each of them i would recommend it to anyone who loved hello my twenties this book definitely has a darker realistic tone, but i still think if you enjoyed one, you d enjoy the other Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.I didn t know what to expect from this book I don t read a lot of contemporary fiction, but this one caught my eye for a few reasons First, the cover I m a sucker for bright colors so that caught my attention right away Second, I m always on the lookout for books that take place in other countries It s an excellent opportunity to learn something new And third, there s nothing I love than a female centric narrative.The four main characters of If I Had Your Face are all women living in the same apartment building in Seoul Ara is a mute hair stylist and K pop fan whose roommate and lifelong best friend has been saving up for plastic surgery Kyuri is a jaded, beauty obsessed woman who works in a room salon and distrusts men Wonna is a newlywed with a doting husband who endured abuse as a child and is now trying for a baby of her own Finally, Miho, Kyuri s roommate, is an artist with a wealthy boyfriend and a secret obsession with her former best friend.The characters are easily my favorite part of this book They feel like real women, complex and fully formed Cha writes from a first person perspective, which is usually not my preference, but it worked beautifully here Each of the four main character felt completely distinct I could easily distinguish whose chapter I was reading at any given time Despite their flaws, I developed a deep connection with each of them because I was able to understand their feelings and motivations, and by the end of the book I was extremely attached to them.The themes of If I Had Your Face center around the patriarchal standards of Korean society, which I found enlightening and thought provoking Although misogyny is present in every country and culture, it manifests itself in different ways In Korea, misogyny takes the form of strict beauty standards and gender norms that women are expected to adhere to Many women who don t fit this impossible mold opt for expensive cosmetic surgery Their value is measured by their looks and by their roles as wife and mother Institutions like room salons fulfill wealthy men s fantasies of being waited on by beautiful young women.The only aspect of this book that I felt ambivalent about was Cha s writing style She writes very frankly, with minimal embellishment and an intimate vibe, like you re reading the main characters diaries For the most part, it worked, because it fit the tone of the book and its contemporary setting and subject matter, but there were occasional moments when I wished for explanation and depth Other than that minor flaw, this was an absolutely enthralling story, and one I highly recommend. I watched a video on YouTube that was all about the many plastic surgeries available in Korea It s a booming industry Really excited to see a hopefully feminist take on it in literary fiction. 3.5 Set in Seoul, If I Had Your Face follows four very different young women who live in the same building Ara is a mute hairdresser who has an unexpected violent side, heightened by her obsession with a K pop star Kyuri is a former prostitute who, having transformed her looks with plastic surgery, makes lots of money at an exclusive room salon , but also has huge debts Miho, outwardly the most successful of the characters an artist who has returned to Korea after a scholarship in New York is haunted by memories of her late friend Ruby, whose boyfriend she is now dating Wonna is married and pregnant she wants to be a mother, but is both terrified of losing the baby and convinced she can t really afford to bring up a child.This is a South Korea in which women s roles are changing marriage and birth rates are at an all time low while career options are still limited Even those who would prefer to follow a traditional path are hampered by financial constraints and lack of support Wonna is told she can only take three months maternity leave Young women like our protagonists, all of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, often see physical beauty as a way out of poverty, and to that end they treat cosmetic surgery as a kind of investment As the novel s title suggests, this obsession with beauty becomes a persistent, slightly exhausting theme My main problem with If I Had Your Face only became apparent once I d finished it some really odd things are glossed over so everyone can be given a vaguely upbeat ending I m thinking in particular of Ara, who savagely beats a girl who pisses her off at work an incident that s barely mentioned after it occurs, and seems to have been forgotten by the end Both Miho and Wonna have interesting storylines which aren t fully developed Miho s story, especially, feels like it s building up to a payoff that never comes.Altogether, I think this book is best enjoyed as something light and fluffy it doesn t delve too deep into its characters most troubling attributes, nor their most intriguing ones That s not to say it s without literary merit, though, and I found Frances Cha s portrait of Seoul society enlightening as well as entertaining I received an advance review copy of If I Had Your Face from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face Whatever I was hoping to get out of this novel, I received just that and even I ve been especially interested in how women in other parts of the world live and interact with one another, so when I saw in the description that this was set in contemporary Seoul, Korea, about four young women making their way , I really couldn t pass it up Though the four main characters live in close proximity, in the same building, their lives feel separate from one another When I first started reading I was wondering if this was going to be of a Sex and the City vibe, where four friends are navigating the dating world and trying to self actualize Or maybe there would be petty feuds and backstabbing It was decidedly not that, and all the better for it.Frances Cha identifies astounding depth in what s considered to be the superficial parts of Korean society She doesn t shy away from the uncomfortable parts of typically glamorized industries, like K Pop and Korean Beauty Sometimes when we read about other places and people, there s an instinct to react with relief, like, Oh thank God it s not like that here It was funny to see some of those reactions directed at American society by the Korean characters, and really made me question my own responses In If I Had Your Face, Cha challenges our perceptions of what s acceptable and has been normalized in our respective parts of the world Both our commonalities and differences are striking.I absolutely fell in love with all of the female characters They re so distinct from one another, but there s a familiar undercurrent that runs through them all, connecting them when there doesn t appear to be much common ground Ara is quiet, but has a ruthless streak Kyuri appears shallow, but is endlessly ambitious Miho s earnestness can come off as naive, but she s not to be underestimated And Wonna feels disconnected and alone, though she s struggling to rekindle her own will Even the women who don t have any first person chapters are layered and complex it s difficult not to root for them all There isn t the unattainable levels of achievement and wealth we may have come to expect, like what we get from following around Rachel and Astrid in Crazy Rich Asians There s a grittiness to the glamour of the women in this story They re connected by the fact that they re all yearning for something the world seems reluctant to provide them I deeply enjoyed watching them rise up snatch it for themselves anywaysThanks to Random House Ballantine Netgalley for an advance copy Frances Cha s fascinating debut set in Seoul, South Korea, is an intimate and heartbreaking portrayal of four different flawed women, their lives and friendships, who live in the same apartment building The novel echoes many similar themes to another Seoul set book I read earlier this year that focused on a close circle of four female friends, the humorous Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu Lien Tan Cha writes of the harsh cultural norms and expectations that women are expected to adhere to, pandering to the fantasies of rich men, the misogyny and sexism, the class system and distinctions, the heavy emphasis on consumerism, and the bleak pressures of the economic environment Women chase the exacting and strict standards of beauty required in the western influenced capitalist Korean society, where your face is your fortune, fueling the rise in extreme and expensive plastic surgery, which has become a feature of everyday life.Kyuri is a gorgeous woman who has undergone numerous cosmetic procedures to compete amidst the fierce rivalries of the highly competitive market to successfully procure a position in entertaining rich businessmen in exclusive bars, or salon rooms Miho grew up in an orphanage and is a gifted artist who managed to secure a scholarship to study in New York, a dark and troubling experience She is now back in Seoul, and has a complicated relationship with her wealthy boyfriend from a corporate background The mute Ara is a hairstylist, caught up in her obsession with a K pop band, and particularly the lead singer, Taein, whom she is hoping to meet The married and traumatised Wonna worries about her family s economic future, how they will survive, and desperate to ensure that her daughter should not have to endure the circumstances and past that has been her lot.Francis Cha s novel is character driven, so if you are looking for a plot driven read, you are going to be doomed to be disappointed If you are looking for the traditional structure of a beginning, a middle and an end where all the threads are tied up, again you will be disappointed This is a glimpse into the lives and friendships of a group of friends with an ending that doesn t give or promise fairy tale happy conclusions Instead, you get a significantly realistic ending where the women will continue to face demanding and challenging lives This is a compelling and insightful read of the complexities and difficulties of Korean women s life experiences, their friendships which can on occasion be competitive, yet ultimately supportive to the needs of their friends It provides a eye opening and informative look at Korean culture and society, whilst underlining the universality of what it is to be a woman in our contemporary world Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC. This is a book set in Seoul which features five young women living in an Officetel in contemporary Seoul Four of them feature as alternating first party point of view characters.Kyuri is a prostitute turned Ten Percent salon girl via sheer determination and copious amounts of plastic surgery Miho an orphan who won an art scholarship to the US where she got involved with a Rich Korean artist Ruby and after Ruby s suicide started dating Ruby s rich Chaebol heir boyfriend while using Ruby as a muse for her latest work Ara s parents work as servants on a large Hanok estate, she became a mute after an attack when she was at school and now works as a hairstylist she is obsessed with the lead singer of a K pop band Wonna is married and desparate for a child although increasingly realising the economic challenge if not impossibility of having and supporting a child given her and her husband s perilous economic situation The fifth character Sujin was a fellow orphan with Miho whose career she has always supported and the middle school friend of Ara with who she now shares a flat her dream is to have surgery to become a top salon girl like Kyuri.The style of the book is unremittingly bleak all four characters could be said to fit the unlikeable female genre of say Eilleen Moshfegh or perhaps pertinently Patti Yumi Cottrell albeit in most cases with an obsession with beauty and appearance rather than its opposite It is I think deliberate that the only character with a balanced and optimistic view on life if perhaps not with an ideal career aspiration is the one not included as a POV character There are a number of aspects by which a book can be analysed for example for literary fiction one can think of use of language, detail of plot, characterisation and topicality contemporary relevance.The language in this book is simple unusually I did not highlight any passages when reading the book for their turn of phrase or clever unusual imagery.Impressively though and burnishing its literary credentials this is not a book heavy on plot in the traditional set up confrontation resolution approach We are dropped into the character s complex lives, with some glimpses into their difficult back stories and the challenges of their existing situation but only via their first party, present day narration and each of the characters faces something of a moment of confrontation crisis however there is little or no resolution in fact all of the characters finish the book in a far ambiguous and open ended situation than they started it.By contrast the novel has a strong emphasis on character all four first party narrators and the fifth linking character, are strongly drawn and memorable, and the switches of point of view are clear even for a book that I read in a single sitting I never found myself double checking which character I was reading which can commonly happen in this form of multiple POV novel I also enjoyed the ways in which the characters secretly judge each other for example Kyuri is horrified by aspects of Ara s art, while Ara dismisses Kyuri as suffering from a victim complex.In terms of topicality contemporary relevance I think the growing Western and worldwide Social media lead interest in K Pop and in its darker side with the recent suicides and K beauty will gain this book a ready audience, and the title I think has been chosen to perhaps over emphasise the extent to which this book is around beauty rather than a wider examination of society However the picture it presents of Korean and particularly Seoul society is unremittingly bleak a literally superficial view of beauty and character, characterised by almost routine use of plastic surgery workplace bullying verbal and physical and sexism a business based culture of evening alcoholism and use of prostitutes infidelity Chaebol based corruption rampant nepotism property speculation snobbery based on class, high school and region discrimination against the unfortunate orphans and disabled generational conflict particularly difficult mother in law daughter in law conflicts increasing suicide rates and so on Perhaps made stark by the lack of any balancing aspects All of this of course fitting the genre from which the book originates My concern here is that while I don t think anyone would think Moshfegh or PYC is presenting a rounded as opposed to a deliberately and provocatively one sided view of American society the relative lack of English language books exploring Korean society may mean that this book is taken as completely representative.Overall I found this a bleak but engrossing read which I read in a single sitting.My thanks to Penguin Books for an ARC via NetGalley.