If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Published by Ballantine Books on April 21, 2020 (expected)
Genre(s): fiction, contemporary
Format & Length: e-book, 272
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 roommate, 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.
If I Had Your Face is a beautifully written character study of four women in contemporary Seoul, Korea.
“I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face.”
Readers in the market for a plot driven book should turn away here. This is told through the four different perspectives of Kyuri, Miho, Ara, and Wonna. These women all live in the same building and what little plot there is loosely links their stories together. Each chapter is told from a new point of view, revealing each character’s current state and backstory in short sections that are easy to dip in and out of.
“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.”
Through the eyes of these women, If I Had Your Face examines many aspects of humanity. It particularly mentions gender roles, social norms, and sexism in Korea, but much of what is found in these pages is universal as well. This book is both wonderfully specific to its setting and ubiquitous enough for everyone to find it relatable.
“It’s basic human nature, this need to look down on someone to feel better about yourself. There is no point in getting upset about it.”
Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed meandering through If I Had Your Face. Readers who like delving deep into character just might find their next great book here.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing an arc of this edition via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.