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If I Had Your Face

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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 heart 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 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.


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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 heart 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 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.

30 review for If I Had Your Face

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily May

    She does not know what this work does to you—how you cannot hold on to your old perspective. You will not be able to save your money because there will never be enough of it. You will keep doing things you never expected to do. You will be affected in ways you could never imagine. In the beginning, I was really loving If I Had Your Face. It introduced me to several fascinating characters and it takes on the subject of beauty standards and sexism in Korea. But I think where this book went wron She does not know what this work does to you—how you cannot hold on to your old perspective. You will not be able to save your money because there will never be enough of it. You will keep doing things you never expected to do. You will be affected in ways you could never imagine. In the beginning, I was really loving If I Had Your Face. It introduced me to several fascinating characters and it takes on the subject of beauty standards and sexism in Korea. But I think where this book went wrong was that it stretched itself too thin, tried to do too many different things and tell too many different stories, all in less than three hundred pages. The result was a book that barely skimmed the surface of all the themes that it took on. If I Had Your Face follows four different Korean women's perspectives. It covers the Korean beauty industry, image and cosmetic surgery, prostitution, sexism, classism, and wealth (especially how rich men can use their money to control women). All of these are fascinating - and, in some cases, horrifying - subjects, and yet I found myself wanting more depth and less breadth. I was never able to really know any of the characters or fully explore their personal circumstances. Ara is a non-verbal hairdresser, styling important clients like a KBC producer, and directly involved in the beauty industry. Kyuri is a "room salon" girl - essentially, a prostitute - whose many successful surgeries attract the wealthiest of men (she was also the most interesting character, IMO). Miho is an artist trying to make her own way and not lean on her rich boyfriend. And Wonna is... pregnant, whilst feeling little more than disdain for her husband. I felt Kyuri had the strongest story arc. Arguably, she is the only character who actually had a story arc. Wonna was the least interesting character and, honestly, she felt like a completely unnecessary addition. I really felt there was no need to create a fourth perspective for her story, especially when the book was already spread so thin. The author throws a number of interesting tidbits our way, mostly during Kyuri's perspective, and then abandons them to move onto another topic or another perspective. I was very interested in this room salon girl business. Cha would write things like: So the girl gets jailed and fined for prostitution, and vilified in society as someone who does this for easy money. The girls who die in the process—the ones who are beaten to death or the ones who kill themselves—they don’t even make the news. And I wanted to know more about these poor forgotten women who didn't make the news. I wanted her to tell their story. But that's all we got. Or: those hoity-toity doctors and pharmacists who run their clinics in districts like Miari and profit off the working girls and their sicknesses These seem like really important issues, tell me more! But no. Moving on to Miho and her boyfriend. In fact, there were many things touched upon that seemed important, and then it was just never mentioned again. Like, at one point, Ara viciously beats up a coworker in a very dramatic scene... and then it is so quickly forgotten. It's almost as if it never happened. If I Had Your Face introduces so much and never expands upon it... characters, stories, random information and dramatic scenes. The writing was quite basic and had a chatty YA contemporary vibe, though the subject matter was clearly for adults. There were some effective moments, but, overall, I was expecting so much more. Facebook | Instagram

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paromjit

    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 book I read earlier this year that focused on a close circle of four female friends, the more 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 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 book I read earlier this year that focused on a close circle of four female friends, the more 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 more 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 more 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 more 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gavea

    ''In the original story, the little mermaid endures unspeakable pain to gain her human legs. The Sea Witch warns her that her new feet will feel as if she is walking on whetter blades, but she will be able to dance like no human has ever danced before. And so she drinks the witch's potion, which slices through her body like a sword.'' Seoul, South Korea. Four women try to make ends meet in a society that has raised them with unattainable expectations, corrupted aspirations and images they hav ''In the original story, the little mermaid endures unspeakable pain to gain her human legs. The Sea Witch warns her that her new feet will feel as if she is walking on whetter blades, but she will be able to dance like no human has ever danced before. And so she drinks the witch's potion, which slices through her body like a sword.'' Seoul, South Korea. Four women try to make ends meet in a society that has raised them with unattainable expectations, corrupted aspirations and images they have to fulfill. Ara has fallen in love with a K-Pop singer, her obsession adding up to her personal ordeal. Miho tries to balance her upbringing and her New York experiences while dealing with her intense feelings for a handsome womanizer. Wonna struggles to fulfill the expectation of being a mother. Kyuri falls prey to her lust for beauty and money and sacrifices her body and, more importantly, her sanity and dignity. But what else is there to do in a reality that worships plastic surgery, financial superiority and ridiculous, fake pop icons? Frances Cha writes with clarity and honesty and allows hints of satire, albeit acute and a little morbid. She comments on a set of rules that has to be obeyed, in a system that comes young female souls away, convincing them that they MUST act as everyone -and especially men- expect them to. Beauty and money are brutally connected to each other, it has always been a reality for most women in all cultures throughout the ages. In this novel, we see this bond in its most extreme version. You have to make money, to put it simply and clearly. You have to make men fall in love with you. Therefore, you need the perfect face according to the pop-star standards. And plastic surgery is the means to an end. With money comes exploitation and the feeling you can manipulate others as others manipulate you. Sex becomes a weapon of persuasion and a means for the elite to achieve its goals. And when you fall in love, society has already fed you with despair so you become obsessed. More and more, faster and faster. Nothing remains untouched, even motherhood is contaminated. If you don't want children, you are an abomination. If you can't raise them, you become a walking guilt. Cha depicts an immense, impossible indifference and absolute cruelty behind the shiny facade. However, the camaraderie between women is an escape, a haven where minds can be unburdened and hearts can be made lighter through shared feelings, even for a while. The voices of the four main characters are distinctive, their thoughts seamlessly communicated to the reader, as we try to understand them and their motives and choices. My favourite character was Miho. She was the restless spirit, the one whose horizons were broadened through Art but her soft heart was there to threaten her. Ι've said it again and again. South Korean Literature is a mystery, a treasure, an enigma to be decoyed with each book. If I Had Your Face is no exception. It is real and through-provoking, an unsettling call to consider our views on social status, ''idols'' and a worldwide industry that wants us beautiful, willing and silent. It is one of the best novels of the year. ''The raindrops keep falling, more thickly now. So we all stand up to make our way upstairs together, as the sky starts crackling, taking aim at each of us and the drunk men stumbling by.'' Many thanks to Penguin Books UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    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 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    monica kim

    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/more realistic tone, but i still think if you enjoyed one, you’d enjoy the other!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Audiobook.... Narrated by Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Anne Miles, and Jeena Yi Beware....after reading this book: ....It will be hard to ever see Korean woman the same again — without thinking of the horrors associated with the underground beauty subculture regime. “If I Had Your Face”, is an eye-opening novel of how South Korean women from Seoul, are valued—by both men and women. ....Wealthy men want a pretty women at their side. ....Insecure women want to look like the pretty women. For Audiobook.... Narrated by Frances Cha, Sue Jean Kim, Ruthie Anne Miles, and Jeena Yi Beware....after reading this book: ....It will be hard to ever see Korean woman the same again — without thinking of the horrors associated with the underground beauty subculture regime. “If I Had Your Face”, is an eye-opening novel of how South Korean women from Seoul, are valued—by both men and women. ....Wealthy men want a pretty women at their side. ....Insecure women want to look like the pretty women. For modern Korean women, having plastic surgery sounded (almost), like an essential necessity. The country has one of the highest plastic procedures per capital. Sixty percent of women in their 20’s, have had plastic surgery. Often if ‘American’ women have plastic surgery- society judges them as vain. In Korean— plastic surgery is considered a ‘necessity’ in bettering oneself. Room salons, beauty obsessions, superficiality, misogyny, hierarchy, classism consumerism, female friendships, competition rivalry, economic concerns, and unrealistic expectations, are examined in Frances Cha’s debut book. It’s GOOD!!! FASCINATING actually!!! Cuckoo-crazy at times ...but its interesting as can be! We meet five Korean women ....Ara is mute—with mute parents. She’s a hairdresser with fuchsia hair, an obsession with the lead singer, (Taein), of a K pop band, and parents who are worried about her future. ....Kyuri .... is beautiful and confident about her beauty. She’s had numerous of plastic surgeries. Kyuri is shallow, ambitious, and successful. Women want to look like her. Men want to buy her expensive gifts to have drinks - etc. with her. Wonna is married and wants desperately to have a child even though she knows financially it would be quite a struggle. You’ll meet Miho, and Sujin.... learn of their orphaned background, their future goals and desires. Listening to the audiobook was totally enjoyable- but a few times I lost track of which woman was speaking...but mostly it was easy to follow.... It didn’t seem to matter, which female was telling whose story. The bigger issue was the awareness of the culture, itself. Here in San Jose... we have a large population of Koreans. I’ve been visiting the Korean spa for the past 20 years. One time while sitting in the Korean sauna — a Korean woman asked me, “why are YOU Here?” “American’s don’t bath together”, she said. Hmmm?? Maybe not as often - or in a public bath house —-but I like the indulgence of nourishing my body, as much as the next person. Spa days with Korean women here in the states are great ‘treat days’.... but until this book - I had no idea of just how ‘much’ Korean women valued beautifying themselves.... ‘essential days’ for them! I loved the freshness of this book..... a look into the world of spoken and unspoken -hush hush - rules. Looking beautiful, at all costs, doesn’t come cheap! 4.5 rating.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    Thank you, Random House Ballantine, for the gifted book. I’ve read very few books set in Korea, and they’ve all been historical as far as I can remember. If I Had Your Face takes place mostly in Korea, with some chapters in NYC when one character travels there to study art. This book is a deep dive character study of four Korean women. The thread uniting them all would on the surface appear to be a search for beauty, however, the quests for inner peace and self-acceptance that are also on the tab Thank you, Random House Ballantine, for the gifted book. I’ve read very few books set in Korea, and they’ve all been historical as far as I can remember. If I Had Your Face takes place mostly in Korea, with some chapters in NYC when one character travels there to study art. This book is a deep dive character study of four Korean women. The thread uniting them all would on the surface appear to be a search for beauty, however, the quests for inner peace and self-acceptance that are also on the table. Extreme plastic surgery is the norm, and the class differences and stifling economy were intriguing and heartrending at the same time. Kyuri has undergone plastic surgery to be a top tier girl in a “room salon,” only to be stuck there due to all she owes the owner. Miho has traveled abroad to study art, only to find her position in society more precarious than ever. Ara is a mute, hair stylist, the victim of a horrible crime when she was younger. Wonna is a young newlywed planning to start a family but unsure she can afford one. There was so much to think about with every character. If I Had Your Face is about these four women. If you love a thoughtful portrayal of characters where you learn about a different culture in a contemporary setting, definitely check this one out. It’s a quick, well-written, emotional, memorable story of friendship. Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    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 inste 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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Olive

    The below review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Envy became the green-eyed monster when Shakespeare dubbed it so in Iago’s warning to Othello. Today, we just call it access to Instagram. Scrolling endlessly through a sea of heavily altered photos has the capacity to make any of us feel envious of others, or even go so far as to make us think, “I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face.” So ponders one of the main characters of the appropriately titled “ The below review originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Envy became the green-eyed monster when Shakespeare dubbed it so in Iago’s warning to Othello. Today, we just call it access to Instagram. Scrolling endlessly through a sea of heavily altered photos has the capacity to make any of us feel envious of others, or even go so far as to make us think, “I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face.” So ponders one of the main characters of the appropriately titled “If I Had Your Face,” the first novel released by former CNN travel and culture editor Frances Cha. Set in South Korea, four rotating perspectives make up Cha’s debut; we begin with Ara, a mute hairstylist with a feverish obsession with a K-pop star. Next, we hear from Kyuri, a heavily surgerized beauty and employee of a high-end room salon, in which men pay large sums of money for good liquor and the company of attractive women. Wonna is the unexpected addition, a married woman living in the same building as the others, seemingly incapable of being happy with her kind husband. Finally, Kyuri’s roommate Miho is a naturally beautiful artist with a wealthy boyfriend. All four are deeply damaged from their pasts filled with cruelty, abandonment, tragic accidents, and loss. Yet the quartet are doing their best to get by, living in Seoul’s fashionable Gangnam District. We follow each one of them roughly an equal number of times throughout this short novel and witness their present internal and external struggles, with backstories slowly poking through. The women can often be startlingly honest about their hardships, revealing themselves to the reader fairly early on. It is only the question of Ara’s muteness that lingers into the back half of the novel. Their situations may be unique, but all four feel the collective cultural pressures weighing down on them. South Korea is well-known for having exceedingly high beauty standards, likely why the country has the highest ratio of plastic surgery procedures per capita, as Business Insider reported in 2015. Among the most common procedures is the double eyelid surgery, a procedure to enlarge and define the eyes by adding a double eyelid, as opposed to the single eyelid with which many South Koreans are born. Though many Western countries tend to see such surgeries as elective emblems of vanity, leading with appearance is highly important in modern South Korea. Headshots have been historically required on applicant resumes, though President Moon Jae-in was reportedly attempting to get rid of that requirement. It was also rumored that he would seek to end the employer’s right to ask applicants about their families or even physical attributes. As “If I Had Your Face” character Miho explains: “For all its millions of people, Korea is the size of a fishbowl and someone is always looking down on someone else. That’s just the way it is in this country, and the reason why people ask a series of rapid-fire questions the minute they meet you. Which neighborhood do you live in? Where did you go to school? Where do you work? Do you know so-and-so? They pinpoint where you are on the national scale of status, then spit you out in a heartbeat.” Where not much can be done about one’s background, a single controllable status-determining factor can at least be one’s appearance, making it no wonder that so many, including characters Kyuri and Sujin, go under the knife. Cha’s debut is filled with biting commentary about the position in which women find themselves in modern South Korea. With such an onus on appearance and social rank, women’s lives come to be dominated by envy, and our main characters are no exception. Each one of them, through their narratives, seems suspended in space, desperately grabbing out for something unreachable, believing that getting a hold on whatever is missing will fill the hole inside of them. Cha’s debut has the potential to provide a window into South Korean culture for the uninitiated, highlighting its richness as well as its problems. The book, for all its sharp wit and acerbic asides, is breezily and delightfully readable, perfect for a one-sitting binge. Wanting only for more differentiation between the character voices and a separate perspective of the group’s keystone friend, Sujin, Cha has given us a novel to write home about. Or, certainly, one with which we can distract ourselves from Instagram.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    “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 more. 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, “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 more. 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 more 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 more 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 seems 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 anyways. *Thanks to Random House - Ballantine & Netgalley for an advance copy!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    4.5 stars Oh wow, I really enjoyed this novel, it felt like a New Adult Korean Gossip Girl, except with way more commentary about patriarchy and capitalism and greater solidarity between women. If I Had Your Face follows four women living in Seoul, Korea: Kyuri, a beautiful woman who’s received a lot of plastic surgery and works in a competitive “room salon,” Miho, a talented artist in a precarious romantic relationship with a rich and handsome boyfriend, Ara, a hairstylist who is obsessed with a 4.5 stars Oh wow, I really enjoyed this novel, it felt like a New Adult Korean Gossip Girl, except with way more commentary about patriarchy and capitalism and greater solidarity between women. If I Had Your Face follows four women living in Seoul, Korea: Kyuri, a beautiful woman who’s received a lot of plastic surgery and works in a competitive “room salon,” Miho, a talented artist in a precarious romantic relationship with a rich and handsome boyfriend, Ara, a hairstylist who is obsessed with a male K-Pop idol (throwback to me in middle and early high school, tbh) and supports her best friend after a painful plastic surgery procedure, and Wonna, a woman with a troubled past trying to conceive a baby in a brutal economy. The four women navigate messy relationships, dangerous men, and their own harrowing pasts, as their friendships with one another provide some relief in a society geared toward keeping women down. I finished this book in about a day because I felt so addicted and compelled by the drama in these characters’ lives. Frances Cha has a talent for writing short yet punchy scenes that keep the plot flowing while still containing raw and believable emotion. As someone who grew up consuming K-Pop (I obsessed about Key from SHINee in middle school and early high school, now I’m obsessed with BlackPink and have a minor crush on Seungyoon from Winner), I felt fascinated and immersed in the Korean culture and lifestyle Cha portrays in If I Had Your Face. Most importantly, Cha displays the patriarchal and capitalist attitudes and behaviors that subjugate women in Korean society, such as the sexist emphasis on appearance and attaining plastic surgery, the ageist way older Korean women are viewed, the lack of economic power possessed by women which leaves them vulnerable to tempestuous and sometimes threatening men, and more. While I loved the drama from an entertainment perspective I also felt keenly aware of Cha’s excellent work giving voice to these four women with varying levels of “beauty” and a common lower socioeconomic class, navigating some pretty awful and humiliating situations. At the same time, Cha displays the resilience and fortitude of these four women in the face of trauma and sexism. I appreciated how she shows the negative consequences of the oppression they face (e.g., internalized negativity toward their body image, sometimes perpetuating aggression toward fellow women) while also portraying the creative and unique ways they resist patriarchy and capitalism. I cherished the scenes that showed the emotional intimacy between the four women as well as how Cha wrote about their individual ambitions and talents, like Miho’s penchant for art and Kyuri’s desire to climb toward a more hospitable job and overall lifestyle. Most iconically, these women struggle and grow and support one another throughout the book with no male romantic interest “saving” any of them or taking up too much of the spotlight – in fact, most of the male romantic interests are minor or major antagonists that the women manage to overthrow and/or let go of, which I liked a lot. While there’s a budding romantic relationship toward the end of the novel, the four women’s bonds with one another provide the most salvation and hope throughout the story. While I would highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in Korean culture and want a deeper look at the sexism that underlies popular phenomena like K-Pop, I can also see why some people have given this book 3-star reviews as opposed to enjoying it more. Instead of going really deep into any one character’s development, the novel focuses more on the present-day obstacles faced by each woman, even though there is background that helps us understand each character. Furthermore, Wonna’s perspective doesn’t really merge with the other characters’ until the end, which I didn’t mind but I can see how that would give the novel a slight feeling of jaggedness or incompleteness. Thus, if you approach the novel expecting less of a really thorough dive into one or two individuals’ perspectives and more as a slice of life story of four women navigating their present day with some content from the past, I think you may enjoy the book more. It’s definitely making me think more deeply about Korean society and how I consume related content (like, ugh, I’m still gonna stan BlackPink for their bops even though now I’m sad that Jisoo’s gorgeous visual and their super thin bodies almost definitely contribute to problematic beauty standards in Korea, sigh). Excited for whatever Frances Cha writes next!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ⚔️ Queen of Villainy ⚔️ Campbell

    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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ash

    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 mo 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 more 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 more explanation and depth. Other than that minor flaw, this was an absolutely enthralling story, and one I highly recommend.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    (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 Yo (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 more 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

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    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 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 more 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 more 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 more 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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This novel examines topics of beauty, class, the place of women, friendship, and art through the lives of five women who are connected in various ways, set in Seoul. I believe it is set in present day but because of the extreme plastic surgery felt more like near-future. I've read several books by female authors set in Korea in the past few years but they were works written in Korean and for Korean audiences (Han Kang, Kim Sagwa, etc). That writing tends to cover similar topics but in a more surr This novel examines topics of beauty, class, the place of women, friendship, and art through the lives of five women who are connected in various ways, set in Seoul. I believe it is set in present day but because of the extreme plastic surgery felt more like near-future. I've read several books by female authors set in Korea in the past few years but they were works written in Korean and for Korean audiences (Han Kang, Kim Sagwa, etc). That writing tends to cover similar topics but in a more surreal, sideways, and violent way. The storytelling in this novel is more straightforward, told in the way of books like Big Little Lies, where there is a piece of information (or pieces) withheld from the reader, revealed gradually, through rotating points of view. It took me a while to find the rhythm of it as it felt like I struggled in the first 40% to stay connected (arguably this could also be quarantine brain) but after that I felt like the pace picked up and I understood the characters more as individuals, making the rest fly by. I had a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley; it came out April 21.

  17. 4 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    Utterly addictive read…. Utterly addictive! I read If I Had Your Face in less than a day, I absolutely could not put this book down and I did not want it to end. Set in bustling Seoul, Korea we meet four young women who beat all the odds and are currently living in the city, but they continue to face a lot more than they are equipped to handle. We meet Kyuri who spends her nights getting drunk with rich businessmen at a salon that hires only beautiful women. Kyuri entertain men on a nightly Utterly addictive read…. Utterly addictive! I read If I Had Your Face in less than a day, I absolutely could not put this book down and I did not want it to end. Set in bustling Seoul, Korea we meet four young women who beat all the odds and are currently living in the city, but they continue to face a lot more than they are equipped to handle. We meet Kyuri who spends her nights getting drunk with rich businessmen at a salon that hires only beautiful women. Kyuri entertain men on a nightly basis and maintains a rigorous beauty regime in the day. She thinks of herself cold-hearted but then she does something that threatens her time at the salon. Kyuri’s roommate Miho returns to Seoul after spending her time in New York studying art. It is during her time in NYC that she meets and starts dating one of the richest heirs in Korea. Miho has a lot going for her, her long glorious hair and her art that everyone seems to love. Living together are best friends Ara and Suyrin. Ara is a hair stylist who is mute and remains fascinated by the lead of a boy-band she hopes to meet one day. Suyrin is obsessed with plastic surgery and spends her time researching and saving up for a surgery she believes will change her life. Last of the four women is Wonna, newly married and struggling to make ends meet even with the help of her husband. Wonna works in a toxic environment and is trying to get pregnant, even though she doesn’t know how she will be able to provide for the child. Frances Cha explores friendship dynamic of the four women in the must heart-felt and moving way. I love how refreshing the prose is, you get a raw look into the beauty industry and how hard it is for some women to assimilate and keep up with the insane beauty standard placed on them. The writing was utterly addictive, I could not get enough of each of the woman’s backstory and how they process their individual and collective reality. This is a well-crafted, refreshing look at friendship and the beauty industry. I honestly could not get enough….I really wish the author wrote more and added more pages to this novel. This is definitely one to add on your TBR list. Thanks RandomHouse for this ARC.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    For better or for worse, I guess, depending on your hopes and interests (for me, it was for better), this very interesting little book is “about” plastic surgery about as much as Moby Dick is “about” whales or Snowpiercer is “about” trains. This poignant novel is truly concerned with how a small group of five younger, independent women, who grew up in hardship (in orphanages or in abusive/neglectful family environments) in more remote areas of South Korea and who now inhabit an “office-tel” apart For better or for worse, I guess, depending on your hopes and interests (for me, it was for better), this very interesting little book is “about” plastic surgery about as much as Moby Dick is “about” whales or Snowpiercer is “about” trains. This poignant novel is truly concerned with how a small group of five younger, independent women, who grew up in hardship (in orphanages or in abusive/neglectful family environments) in more remote areas of South Korea and who now inhabit an “office-tel” apartment building in Seoul, navigate cultural and societal barriers -- particularly systemic and entrenched sexism, classism, ageism, able-ism (one character is mute), and the accompanying economic disparities and drastically limited opportunities for social mobility -- to try to achieve as safe, stable, and contented lives as they possibly can. To accomplish this, the protagonists employ whatever resources accessible to them -- be it plastic surgery, sex or escort work, administrative or custodial jobs, educational opportunities, or dating/marriage -- as well as their own innate talents (one character is a visual artist and one a skilled hair stylist), resourcefulness, mutual support, and skills for working a “rigged system” and advocating for self and other. (A recurring theme of the novel is how characters have, throughout their lives and to the present day, lobbied for opportunities for one another to access tools for self-improvement and increased mobility or stability, including jobs in varied settings, scholarships, placements in vocational schools - or, yes, appointments with in-demand plastic surgeons.) I really appreciated the author’s ability to portray characters who are fighters and survivors — sure, maybe not always perfect and “likeable,” whatever that means, but certainly resilient, spirited, and ultimately more collaborative than competitive in the face of hardship — and to imbue the book with hints of hope, especially in a sort of inconclusive ending that may bug other readers but that I really liked. It would have been easy to succumb to bleakness and hopelessness and stereotype, and the author has too much respect for her characters to do this. If I have any complaints about the novel, it’s that it’s always hard to give adequate attention to and differentiate all characters in an alternating-viewpoints-chapters novel, but I think the author fits together the puzzle pieces very well and manages a comprehensive “slice of life” approach that provides moving glimpses of these women’s pasts and presents and instills some cautious hopes for their futures. The South Korean setting is especially fascinating and hopefully of interest to readers given the popularity of recent films such as Parasite (and shout out again to a personal favorite, Snowpiercer) that explore some similar themes. I say this often in reviews, but in this case, I really, really do hope this talented author gives us more in the future! To her I say, “If I had your writing skills...”!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    3.5 stars I didn’t know plastic surgery was SUCH a big thing in South Korea and after finishing the book I just had to googled it. Turns out that South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world. This book gave a glimpse into this sub-culture I knew nothing about and there was a vapid sadness to Kyuri, Sujin and Nami’s frantic search for validation in all the wrong places. But the book also showed other young women like Ara who preoccupies her life with obsessing over 3.5 stars I didn’t know plastic surgery was SUCH a big thing in South Korea and after finishing the book I just had to googled it. Turns out that South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world. This book gave a glimpse into this sub-culture I knew nothing about and there was a vapid sadness to Kyuri, Sujin and Nami’s frantic search for validation in all the wrong places. But the book also showed other young women like Ara who preoccupies her life with obsessing over a popstar to forget her unfulfilling life. Or Weenu, a throw away girl child ended up marrying a man just to feel a sense of belonging, desperate for a child of her own. Weenu’s story also demonstrated just how much Korean women are discriminated against in the work place and Miho’s story showed the huge divide between the average Korean and the uber rich. I think this book will appeal not only to adult readers but also young women on the brink of adulthood who are bombarded with images of glamour and wealth all day long via social media. The writing is very easy to digest and an extremely fast read. Not necessarily a literary read but an engrossing one. Recommended Netgalley ARC: Expected Publish Date 21 April 2020

  20. 5 out of 5

    Claire Reads Books

    I really enjoyed reading this and found myself picking it up at all hours of the day. The ending was a little abrupt and underwhelming, but the appeal here is less the plot (of which there is little) and more the five women that we follow as they navigate the lower rungs of Korean society and try to claw out a space for themselves in a world of unrelenting misogyny. Some of the women’s arcs are more satisfying than others, and if anything this book left me wanting more of these characters, each I really enjoyed reading this and found myself picking it up at all hours of the day. The ending was a little abrupt and underwhelming, but the appeal here is less the plot (of which there is little) and more the five women that we follow as they navigate the lower rungs of Korean society and try to claw out a space for themselves in a world of unrelenting misogyny. Some of the women’s arcs are more satisfying than others, and if anything this book left me wanting more of these characters, each of whom could command an entire novel to herself.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    This book was a great look at how young women are viewed in contemporary Korea with a focus on class differences. The book centers around a group of young women living in an apartment complex, the pressures put on them to have a certain appearance or act a certain way, all geared toward pleasing and placating men in the society. All of the women were also not of the wealthier classes, and the author seems to imply that these pressures are felt more by women who are not part of the wealthy elite. This book was a great look at how young women are viewed in contemporary Korea with a focus on class differences. The book centers around a group of young women living in an apartment complex, the pressures put on them to have a certain appearance or act a certain way, all geared toward pleasing and placating men in the society. All of the women were also not of the wealthier classes, and the author seems to imply that these pressures are felt more by women who are not part of the wealthy elite. The struggles of some of the characters to achieve and maintain a certain appearance seemed painful and exhausting.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lea ♞ That_Bookdragon

    3.5/5 ⭐️ Thank you so much to PRH International for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion! "I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face." Before you decide to pick up this book, be aware that this is not YA, but Adult fiction. I personally didn't mind and enjoyed that aspect more because nothing was sugarcoated and this book was raw. I feel like this is the best adjective to describe this book: raw. Set in Seoul, South Korea 3.5/5 ⭐️ Thank you so much to PRH International for providing me with a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion! "I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face." Before you decide to pick up this book, be aware that this is not YA, but Adult fiction. I personally didn't mind and enjoyed that aspect more because nothing was sugarcoated and this book was raw. I feel like this is the best adjective to describe this book: raw. Set in Seoul, South Korea, we are meant to follow four different female protagonists who all live in the same building. I was truly surprised, and shocked, to discover the extent at which women are ready to go to fit the beauty standards set by society. They go through extensive plastic surgery that could potentially permanently damage their bodies. I knew of course that South Korea was the leader in plastic surgery but damn I didn't think it was that much and actually reading about it gave me chills. These women work in a room salon and therefore they have to be beautiful for their customers, they have to be beautiful for society and to fit the standards and conventions established by it. Whilst reading this book, I was transported to South Korea. The author's writing is absolutely entrancing and I truly felt like I was there with the characters. I learned so much about the Korean society and even discussed it with one of my classmates who has been there before. It was an immersive read, definitely character driven, that tackles social issues, social classes, sexism and misogyny to an extent I was not expecting. It was definitely eye-opening for me because I'm ashamed to admit that I am not familiar with the Korean culture. I definitely want to get to know more however. I enjoyed that the author wrote without any taboos about how challenging the lives of women is. The expectations set on their shoulders are high and the pressure must be unbelievable. Beauty is the only way women can evolve in society because their faces and bodies are their assets. If they are beautiful, then they can marry well, hence the importance of plastic surgery. To conclude, I would repeat again that this book is definitely eye-opening and it got more truly curious about South Korean culture. It is a thought-provoking read that made me question many ugly things about the way our western culture influences other cultures and the extremes at which beauty standards are taken. My Bookstagram

  23. 4 out of 5

    TL

    I won this via goodreads giveaways, all my opinions are my own:). --- A compelling slice of life revolving around four, each with their own troubles in Seoul. I had to blink a few times when I reached the end. Not that the ending was abrupt but I had been expecting to just.. keep going I guess. It felt like I had left behind some new friends. Its more character heavy than plot. Everything flows well and you feel like you are dropped into these women's lives as an observer (mean that in a good way). I won this via goodreads giveaways, all my opinions are my own:). --- A compelling slice of life revolving around four, each with their own troubles in Seoul. I had to blink a few times when I reached the end. Not that the ending was abrupt but I had been expecting to just.. keep going I guess. It felt like I had left behind some new friends. Its more character heavy than plot. Everything flows well and you feel like you are dropped into these women's lives as an observer (mean that in a good way). Miho was my favorite. I loved her unique perspective and the descriptions of her art. Not a complaint persay, but I would have (view spoiler)[loved to see the results of her revenge on her boyfriend. I have a feeling it would have been EPIC. (hide spoiler)] Some things had me wanting to smack a few people and some moments were very touching. One of my favorites happened with Ara in the later part of the book. Hints at how the future would play out for each of these women, and hope that it all works out for them, mark of good writing :). There's a haunted quality and honesty that shines through in the writing, it pulls you in and leads you by the hand almost without realizing it. You are rooting for each girl, even as it seems the society's expectations are too high and maybe ridiculous to your eyes. They are swimming against the tide, and doing their best to stay afloat. This review is a bit disjointed haha but I really did enjoy this one. Always nice when an anticipated read lives up to expectations :).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fareya

    If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is a character oriented literary fiction set in contemporary Korea. It explores the day to day lives of four Korean women, each extremely different from the other and tells their individual stories. It is raw and unsettling, sad and thought provoking but also insightful and enlightening. It mostly focuses on its characters and doesn't really have a traditional storyline.The writing is simple and almost conversational. and the author does a great job of providing If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha is a character oriented literary fiction set in contemporary Korea. It explores the day to day lives of four Korean women, each extremely different from the other and tells their individual stories. It is raw and unsettling, sad and thought provoking but also insightful and enlightening. It mostly focuses on its characters and doesn't really have a traditional storyline.The writing is simple and almost conversational. and the author does a great job of providing a glimpse at the difficulties and dilemmas faced by Korean women on a day to day basis. Kyuri is a successful room salon girl who has had to undergo innumerable cosmetic procedures due to the ruthless competition in her field. Miho is an extremely talented artist who is in a complicated and toxic relationship with a frightfully wealthy man. Ara is a mute hairstylist who is obsessed wth a K-pop band and its lead singer. Wonna is a woman with a tough past and a weak economic standing who mostly spends her day worrying about how she'll provide for her yet to be born daughter. If I Had Your Face is a glimpse into the lives of these four women, their struggles and fears, dreams and desires.  Since my knowledge of Korean culture is minimal (yes, I need to read more Korean literature) nearly everything I read in here was new to me, be it the horrifying societal norms, harsh beauty standards, cosmetic surgery culture and room salon business or the prevalent misogyny, sexism, consumerism, classism and even the obsession with K-pop culture. While I overall enjoyed If I Had Your Face, it left me wanting a lot more. A whole bunch of fascinating subjects were introduced but never expanded on. Several questions were left unanswered. Numerous incidents throughout the book had me wondering how they'll be addressed, but they were just left, forgotten, without any reference. Why? For example, what happened after that salon restroom incident with Ara? What was the deal with Wonna's husband? What happened after her baby came? Did Miho simply forgive and forget? Really, so many questions and no answers. It was a little frustrating. Every story felt incomplete, the conclusion was very abrupt, not to mention vague and I did not buy how it all came together at the end. You know what, I'd happily read a sequel if the author writes one. So, yes, it was a good enough read but not very satisfying because while it started really strong the abrupt conclusion and lack of answers left me hanging, wanting much more.  **A free ARC was provided by Random House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.**

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nev

    I absolutely loved this book. It follows a group of young women living in Seoul as they have to deal with harsh beauty standards, pressure to get plastic surgery, sexism, and rigid social hierarchies. There were four different POV characters and I enjoyed reading from all of them. They each had a rough childhood and we get to see how that impacted their lives moving forward into adulthood. This is very much a character focused, slice of life novel. There isn’t really an overarching plot, you’re I absolutely loved this book. It follows a group of young women living in Seoul as they have to deal with harsh beauty standards, pressure to get plastic surgery, sexism, and rigid social hierarchies. There were four different POV characters and I enjoyed reading from all of them. They each had a rough childhood and we get to see how that impacted their lives moving forward into adulthood. This is very much a character focused, slice of life novel. There isn’t really an overarching plot, you’re just getting a glimpse into the lives of these women. I can see how that might come across as boring or pointless to some readers, but it totally worked for me. I absolutely flew through this book because I was so invested in the stories of these women.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    3.5 stars Honestly, I picked up this book because its cover is so beautiful. I find that ironic now that it was cover allure that got me on the hook, as the whole point of If I Had Your Face is that aesthetics aren't everything. The title gets its name from one scene in the book where Kyuri is making yet another trip to the plastic surgeon. She has already done numerous procedures chasing the perfect face. In this case that face belongs to the lead singer of a popular girl band. When she sees he 3.5 stars Honestly, I picked up this book because its cover is so beautiful. I find that ironic now that it was cover allure that got me on the hook, as the whole point of If I Had Your Face is that aesthetics aren't everything. The title gets its name from one scene in the book where Kyuri is making yet another trip to the plastic surgeon. She has already done numerous procedures chasing the perfect face. In this case that face belongs to the lead singer of a popular girl band. When she sees her muse in the waiting room her instant reaction is one of judgement. "I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face." But how is Kyuri living her life? She is a 10% girl in a room salon. Basically all of these procedures, the ripping and cutting away at her face, the debts that she owes, the compromises she has made and the precarious positions she has put herself in, have all been for . . . becoming a high class call girl. And yet she judges the next woman. This emphasis on appearance and general insecurity seems to be the standard within the society portrayed in Frances Cha's debut. In addition to Kyuri, the story is told by Wonna, Ara, and Miho. Wonna is a young married woman who chose her husband in part because his mother was dead. Her backstory is one of childhood abuse. Ara is a hairdresser. She is beautiful and mute, having lost the ability to talk during an attack. Miho is an art student. She sees her friend Ruby's life as something to be attained. Ruby is rich, beautiful and commands attention when she enters a room. Even when Ruby tells Miho that "Rich people are fascinated by happiness . . . It's something they find maddening," she never wonders why. Although some of these women share a past, they come together in a four story office-tel. Perhaps the most intriguing of these women is Sujin, but she does not have a first person narrative. This is unfortunate as I truly would have liked to hear more of her story. Of the five she seems to me the strongest in spirit. The writing in If I Had Your Face was impressive, but the sentiment was bleak. Each woman carried her own baggage of depressing issues - alcoholism, suicide, abuse, abandonment. But the focus was forevermore on beauty and possessions. Not on the heart of the matter, nor the heart of the person before them. The take home message was that in order to achieve joy in one's life, you should be focused on healing from your past. No amount of makeup, plastic surgery or wealth will set right the matters of the heart. Special thanks to NetGalley, Ballantine Books and Frances Cha for access to this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5 rounded up Cha's debut is a scathing indictment on how women - and, in particular their physical appearance - are viewed within contemporary Korean society. The narrative follows four young women, three of whom are friends and one who lives on the floor below them in their apartment block, and through these women we learn about the pressure to look beautiful above anything else an the importance placed on this. One character, Wonna, is pregnant and stressed about how she can afford to raise a 3.5 rounded up Cha's debut is a scathing indictment on how women - and, in particular their physical appearance - are viewed within contemporary Korean society. The narrative follows four young women, three of whom are friends and one who lives on the floor below them in their apartment block, and through these women we learn about the pressure to look beautiful above anything else an the importance placed on this. One character, Wonna, is pregnant and stressed about how she can afford to raise a baby whilst holding down a job; another, Kyuri, works as a "room salon" girl being paid to drink with rich business men; Miho is an orphan who wins an art scholarship to America where she meets a chaebol daughter, Ruby, and becomes enmeshed in her life; and finally Ara, a hairdresser who becomes mute after an accident and is obsessed with a famous K-pop star. I have to admit to finding the plot a little patchy at times, but I could forgive that for what I found to be an insightful and disheartening look at the position of women in Korea today. Having visited Korea several years ago (and watched my fair share of K-dramas...) the topic isn't new to me, but I thought Cha handled it very well. This will inevitably be compared to Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, although if you're looking for a more plot-driven novel I'd recommend this one of the two. Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Books UK for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Iryna *Book and Sword*

    4.5/5 stars Happy PUB Day to If I Had Your Face Here comes a new crisp voice in fiction - one which I am a big fan of now, and will definitely follow. From the first glance, If I Had Your Face seems like a collection of separate storylines, but very quickly it's evident at just how tightly woven they are. I loved the pacing, I loved how everything came together - one moment I am reading about all these different women and the next I see them as this tight knit group of misfits that are just tryin 4.5/5 stars Happy PUB Day to If I Had Your Face Here comes a new crisp voice in fiction - one which I am a big fan of now, and will definitely follow. From the first glance, If I Had Your Face seems like a collection of separate storylines, but very quickly it's evident at just how tightly woven they are. I loved the pacing, I loved how everything came together - one moment I am reading about all these different women and the next I see them as this tight knit group of misfits that are just trying to make it in this harsh world. This book surprised me, normally I am quite negative towards cosmetic surgery (unless there's a health reason for it) and superficial things, but this book makes them relevant. They are a part of this story and I gulped it all in two sittings. Horrified, at the reality of it all, but unable to stop. Frances Cha has a wonderful way of story telling about her, it's engaging and it gives just enough without revealing too much. With every horror she reveals, you know that more are hiding underneath, but also with every happy moment she gives you - you know that there is hope for more to come. ​ Big thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for a digital copy to review. All opinions are my own.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    The gorgeous cover made me grab this, along with the chance to get an insider view of female lives in Seoul. Some of it is shocking, particularly the extreme plastic surgery that has women shaving their jaws to meet someone else's ideal of female beauty even if it means they can't eat... but at heart I found this sticks to a formula: the four female friends who support each other through everything. All the women speak with the same voice and there's something a little muddy about the writing so The gorgeous cover made me grab this, along with the chance to get an insider view of female lives in Seoul. Some of it is shocking, particularly the extreme plastic surgery that has women shaving their jaws to meet someone else's ideal of female beauty even if it means they can't eat... but at heart I found this sticks to a formula: the four female friends who support each other through everything. All the women speak with the same voice and there's something a little muddy about the writing so that it lacks clarity and vitality, as if we're hearing everything through a muffled layer. Worth a read, though, for the insight into Korea and young Korean female lives.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    This one is a dark exploration of the many forms of misogyny prominent in South Korean society. It discusses beauty, cosmetic surgery, prostitution, infidelity, classism, and even K-pop. First of all I loved the characters and found them to be refreshing and unique. Yes some were more fleshed out than others, but each added to the scope of the story. I also really enjoyed the book’s depiction of the importance of female friendships. I’ve seen a few complaints about the chatty tone used by the au This one is a dark exploration of the many forms of misogyny prominent in South Korean society. It discusses beauty, cosmetic surgery, prostitution, infidelity, classism, and even K-pop. First of all I loved the characters and found them to be refreshing and unique. Yes some were more fleshed out than others, but each added to the scope of the story. I also really enjoyed the book’s depiction of the importance of female friendships. I’ve seen a few complaints about the chatty tone used by the author but I applaud the frankness of it (then again, I’m not one for flowery overly “literary” prose so ymmv.) I wish the book had been longer and gone even deeper (perhaps more into the topic of suicide as iirc South Korea has the highest rate of female suicide in the world), but this is an excellent read that I couldn’t put down.

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