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A 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 beautiful wo A 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 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 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 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 beautiful wo A 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 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 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

    Roxane

    There are great lines throughout. This book does a lot to explore Korean womanhood. At times it felt a bit like there was a checklist of issues to address but it was still an engrossing read.

  3. 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Gkavea

    ''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...

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    jenny✨

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 BEAUTIFUL and bitter stars for compulsively readable writing, wholly compelling characters, and female camaraderie! ARA. Left mute after a brutal attack when she was a teenager, Ara spends her days as a hairdresser in Seoul, sharing laughs with her best friend Sujin and dreaming about someday meeting k-idol Taein. She's all but left her childhood where it belongs: in the forlorn town that taught her true violence. KYURI. Numerous cosmetic surgeries have shaped Kyuri into a symmetrica ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 BEAUTIFUL and bitter stars for compulsively readable writing, wholly compelling characters, and female camaraderie! ARA. Left mute after a brutal attack when she was a teenager, Ara spends her days as a hairdresser in Seoul, sharing laughs with her best friend Sujin and dreaming about someday meeting k-idol Taein. She's all but left her childhood where it belongs: in the forlorn town that taught her true violence. KYURI. Numerous cosmetic surgeries have shaped Kyuri into a symmetrical-featured goddess, securing her employment at Gangnam's most expensive room salon. She is under no illusions about the impossibly high stakes of the world she's chosen, or the men she must humour—pleasure—if she is to keep her place. WONNA. Trapped in a lifeless marriage, Wonna prays for a daughter to take her away from her soul-crushing office job and the husband she scorns. She is drawn to the vibrant youth of the girls in her building, so unlike her when she was their age.... No, her childhood bore only abandonment, and a terrible accident that she will never forget. MIHO. She is an artist, educated in America, and fixated on the tragedy that took the person she may have loved most. Miho's whimsy, which frustrates her roommate Kyuri, has nonetheless enchanted her best friend's boyfriend. And though she comes from nothing—raised in the same lonely orphanage as Sujin—she has glimpsed wealth. And pain. ◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️ It’s a chemistry thing. I know that. I know that this book isn't going to be for everyone, and it took me a long time to pick it up because I thought I was one of those everyone's. But this book really worked for me. Chemistry: something that exists solely between two entities, in this case, If I Had Your Face and me; that worms its way under your skin; and that sometimes defies explanation. A perfect tipping of circumstances. Like this: it is May, Asian-Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and I have just discovered the vibrantly abundant world of k-dramas. I am enthralled by the everyday lives and stories of contemporary South Korean women, and I devour each detail—what they eat, where they go, who they are. As I found myself swept up in the entwined stories of Ara, Kyuri, Wonna, and Miho—four women inhabiting the same office-tel—I became as shameless in my voyeurism as Wonna's unabashed interest in the girls' youth. These are women who are hurt, heartless, darkly funny, and fiercely loyal as they navigate their own traumas and the realities of being a woman in modern-day Seoul. Above all, I savoured the bittersweet frankness of Frances Cha's prose. The book makes no attempts to shield us from any of the terrible things that occur in each woman’s life, things made all the more painful because they are so mundane, and it is all the richer for it.

  10. 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

  11. 4 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 characters 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 Cha’s characters 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jaidee (on roadtrip-only updating reading progress

    3.5 "toxic femininity" stars !!! 2020 READ WHERE i WISH I WAS EDITOR AWARD First of all thank you to Paromjit whose review led me to this novel. I also read Jenny's review that also propelled me to read further. I was excited to be approved by Netgalley for an e-copy but when I got to it...the book had expired...so I borrowed a copy from a gal pal. I see great things ahead for Ms. Cha who has her finger on both Korean culture and young womens' nihilism, despair and propensities for cruelties unde 3.5 "toxic femininity" stars !!! 2020 READ WHERE i WISH I WAS EDITOR AWARD First of all thank you to Paromjit whose review led me to this novel. I also read Jenny's review that also propelled me to read further. I was excited to be approved by Netgalley for an e-copy but when I got to it...the book had expired...so I borrowed a copy from a gal pal. I see great things ahead for Ms. Cha who has her finger on both Korean culture and young womens' nihilism, despair and propensities for cruelties under the guise of victimhood under patriarchal structures. These four women are both minor villains and minor anti-heroes. Cunning, misled and deeply hurt and damaged they try to navigate the modern Korean landscape not only to survive but to get ahead. They will cut each other down, manipulate men and each other and spew out venoms towards others that also get partially swallowed that leads further to despair and self-hatred. Around them there is unfathomable undeserved wealth, oppressive historical traditions and unrelenting pressures to be intelligent, beautiful and docile. Despite this amazing and intelligent backdrop however, Ms. Cha's prose needs tightening and a more careful editing that would have taken this very good chick-lit novel into a more powerful literary direction. I so look forward to seeing what Ms. Cha will come up with next. A group of Korean Salon Workers

  13. 4 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest IF I HAD YOUR FACE is a multi-POV story set in Korea. It revolves around Kyrui, Miho, Ara, and Wonna. All of them lead very different lives but their intertwining journeys share one similar theme: navigating the misogyny and rigorous gender norms for women. The beginning of the book is very strong but after the 50% mark, it kind of peters out. Kyrui and Ara are the best narrators, in my opinion. Kyuri is a hostess who used to be a prostit Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest IF I HAD YOUR FACE is a multi-POV story set in Korea. It revolves around Kyrui, Miho, Ara, and Wonna. All of them lead very different lives but their intertwining journeys share one similar theme: navigating the misogyny and rigorous gender norms for women. The beginning of the book is very strong but after the 50% mark, it kind of peters out. Kyrui and Ara are the best narrators, in my opinion. Kyuri is a hostess who used to be a prostitute and Ara is a hair stylist who is unable to speak due to injury, but despite her apparent weakness, she has a core of iron. Miho and Wonna are less compelling. Miho felt too much like a composite of Kyuri and Ara and Wonna had an interesting backstory but her present narrative was uninteresting. I was actually kind of shocked at how short this book was, because it felt like there wasn't adequate room to accomplish everything that it set out to do, and I wasn't really convinced that the author knew how to cohesively end all of the narrative threads she had begun. I think parring the narrators down to just one or two might have been better. Kyuri could have carried the book all on her own, to be honest. I would read more by this author but ultimately I was kind of disappointed by this book. I guess I was hoping it would focus more on viciously taking down the Korean beauty industry while ascribing agency to its unreliable female narrators. 2.5 to 3 stars

  16. 4 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    JimZ

    Two days ago I finished ‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga (Man Booker Prize award, 1008) and concluded (to myself) that I certainly do not know much about India. ☹ Today I finished this novel, and conclude that I do not know much about South Korea. ☹ Wonder what I’ll read tomorrow? No doubt it will be a trifecta…”I don’t know much about Country X”. ☹ Anyhoo, I liked this book because it was well-written and held my attention, and I thought the four protagonists were quite interesting. So 4 stars Two days ago I finished ‘The White Tiger’ by Aravind Adiga (Man Booker Prize award, 1008) and concluded (to myself) that I certainly do not know much about India. ☹ Today I finished this novel, and conclude that I do not know much about South Korea. ☹ Wonder what I’ll read tomorrow? No doubt it will be a trifecta…”I don’t know much about Country X”. ☹ Anyhoo, I liked this book because it was well-written and held my attention, and I thought the four protagonists were quite interesting. So 4 stars for me. I liked the format. The novel told the evolving story from each woman’s viewpoint as to what was happening in her life at the time (and sometimes one, two, or three of the other women were involved and sometimes not). So it would go Ara, Kyuri, Wonna, Miho, then proceed along with Ara again, and Kyuri again and so on. All had interesting pasts that came out over the course of the novel. I’m trying to think if any had a normal upbringing but I don’t think any of them did.….raised by a cruel grandmother (Wonna, unhappily married and miscarrying babies), raised in an orphanage (Miho), one was attacked by a girl gang (Ari) and as a result of the physical attack became mute. I think Kyuri who worked at a room salon and had had countless cosmetic surgeries, done on mostly her face, had an OK childhood but she was ashamed to tell her mother what she did for a living…serving drinks to businessmen at a room salon, and sometimes sleeping with them. There was another character in the novel that popped up quite a bit because she was a roommate (and childhood friend) of Ara, Sujin. She was interesting because at the beginning of the novel she had surgery which involved having her jaw was broken so she would look more appealing. Yikes! This is how Ara described Kyuri: “Kyuri…is one of those electrically beautiful girls. The stitches on her double eyelids look naturally faint, while her nose is raised, her cheekbones tapered, and her entire jaw realigned and shaved into a slim v-line. Long leathery eyelashes have been planted along her tattooed eye line, and she does routine light therapy on her skin, which glistens cloudy white, like skim milk. Earlier, she was waxing on about the benefits of lotus leaf masks and ceramide supplements for budding neck lines. The only unaltered part of her is surprisingly her hair, which unfolds like a dark river down her back.” The author is a former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul. Reviews: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert... https://www.newsday.com/entertainment... https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/... Note: in this review Cha says it took 10 years to write this book, and that “The narrator that I had spent the most time on was cut out entirely. She will be the protagonist in my second book, which is due soon.” Good! ☺️

  18. 4 out of 5

    luce

    / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / / 3 ½ stars Engaging and insightful If I Had Your Face is a solid debut novel from a promising writer. If I Had Your Face follows four young women trying to navigate everyday life in contemporary Seoul. They live in the same building but to begin with are not exactly friends. We have Ara, a mute hair stylist who is infatuated with a member of a popular Kpop boy band, Kyuri, who has undergone numerous plastic surgeries and works at a 'room salon' where she ente / / / Read more reviews on my blog / / / 3 ½ stars Engaging and insightful If I Had Your Face is a solid debut novel from a promising writer. If I Had Your Face follows four young women trying to navigate everyday life in contemporary Seoul. They live in the same building but to begin with are not exactly friends. We have Ara, a mute hair stylist who is infatuated with a member of a popular Kpop boy band, Kyuri, who has undergone numerous plastic surgeries and works at a 'room salon' where she entertains wealthy men, Miho, an artist who studied in NY and whose boyfriend comes from an influential family, and Wonna, who lives with her husband and is pregnant. Part of me wishes that the novel could have been structured differently so that instead of switching between these characters their stories could have been presented as a series of interlinked novellas. This would have probably prevented their voices from blurring together, which they sometimes did. Miho and Wonna's chapters were a lot weaker in terms of 'distinctive' voices. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Cha's breezy prose. It is very readable and vividly rendered the characters' circumstances/environments. I liked the balance Cha maintained between drama and realism. Cha's commentary on South Korean society is both sharp and zingy. Through Ara, Miho, Wonna, and Kyuri's stories Cha shows the ways in which their choices, desires, sense of selves, are shaped by gender inequity, class, and oppressive beauty standards. Their parents are either dead or unable to help them financially so they rely on their income...beauty too, is a currency and we see the advantages of being seen as beautiful entails. Another aspect that I appreciated about this novel was that its characters are not paragons of virtue. They can be selfish, oblivious, not always willing to consider the weight of their actions or words, judgemental, flippant, and cruel. I did find myself far more interested in Ara and Kyuri than Miho and Wonna. This may be because the latter two had chapters that were heavy on 'backstories' (as opposed to focusing on the 'now'). Miho's personality seemed that of the artist (always with her head in the clouds, viewing the world through artistic lenses, too occupied by her art to remember to eat or take care of herself) while Wonna's chapters did not seem to fit with the rest. Her chapters examine her marriage and her anxiety over her pregnancy (understandably since she had several miscarriages), which would have suited another kind of book. The other characters' chapters did not have such a narrow focus. Also, I just found myself growing fonder of Ara and Kyuri. Their storylines were gripping in a way that Miho and Wonna's weren't. The stakes were higher in Ara and Kyuri and their eventual friendship was rather sweet. Cha's If I Had Your Face is certainly a vibrant read. If you want to read more about modern South Korean society or of the trials and errors, ups and downs of life as a millennial you should definitely give If I Had Your Face a try. ps: I have a bone to pick with whoever wrote the blurb for this novel. The blurb for the Viking edition not only reveals too much but it is also kind of misleading (Ara's obsession with a K-pop star "drives her to violent extremes"...? When? If this is referring to that one scene...that had very little to do with Ara's crush on that K-pop star).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer

    Now longlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. 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 da Now longlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. 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.

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I listened to the audible production of “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha. This highly rated novel includes four female narrators who provide the reader with the soul-crushing beauty expectations in South Korea. From this story, I learned that South Korea has one of the most plastic surgery rates in the world with eyelid and jaw slimming surgeries leading the numbers. What is more astounding is that the jaw surgeries can take over a year to recover. One’s looks ultimately determine one’s wealt I listened to the audible production of “If I Had Your Face” by Frances Cha. This highly rated novel includes four female narrators who provide the reader with the soul-crushing beauty expectations in South Korea. From this story, I learned that South Korea has one of the most plastic surgery rates in the world with eyelid and jaw slimming surgeries leading the numbers. What is more astounding is that the jaw surgeries can take over a year to recover. One’s looks ultimately determine one’s wealth and marriage prospects. Thus, plastic surgery is culturally considered very practical in improving one’s life. Cha also reveals South Korea’s consumerism and male dominated culture. The story takes place in Seoul Korea and follows four young women in an apartment building. Kyuri is a beautiful room salon girl where the rich and elite men go for beautiful female companionship. Kyuri has already undergone multiple plastic surgeries, but finds her looks are fading because of all the heavy drinking required. Her roommate is Miho who is naturally beautiful and is an artist. She relies on the rich to purchase her art. Miho’s narration informs the reader as to the scale of wealth, the hedonistic behavior of the ultra-wealthy when she begins dating a wealthy heir. Ara is a talented hairdresser who fashions the beautiful women’s hair. She lives across the hall from Kyuri and Miho; Ara dresses Kyuri’s hair daily. Ara is mysteriously mute making her interesting in her ruminations. Ara is obsessed with a K-pop star. Her roommate is Sujin (who doesn’t narrate). Through Ara we see Sujin who will go through extreme measures to gain Korean beauty. Sujin is one of the more tragic characters in her neediness. Wonna is a pregnant wife. She chose her husband because his mother was dead. In South Korea, there is generally a pernicious wife/mother-in-law relationship. Wonna wants a baby more than anything. Wonna doesn’t play a huge role in the story; she is a working woman who isn’t treated well at work. Cha’s novel is basically about current Korean culture and obsessions. All the press this novel has received is well earned. The audible production is fantastic.

  23. 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...”!

  24. 5 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 5 out of 5

    MissBecka Gee

    This is like reading a soap opera... No real plot, but a whole lot of drama. Not worth the hype. Side note: (view spoiler)[I hate that it ended without any real conclusions for any of the characters. An epilogue to tie up all the lose ends would have been more satisfying. (hide spoiler)] This is like reading a soap opera... No real plot, but a whole lot of drama. Not worth the hype. Side note: (view spoiler)[I hate that it ended without any real conclusions for any of the characters. An epilogue to tie up all the lose ends would have been more satisfying. (hide spoiler)]

  27. 5 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

  28. 4 out of 5

    capture stories

    Beauty, Destiny, and Money.....the trilogy that bounds women to an ugly fate. The title of the book caught my attention and had me thinking deeply. "If I had your face," would my life changed for the better? The bleak thought of getting a perfect face visited my mind once and had me the urge to get my face done in exchange for the belief that with a pretty face, life can be more beautiful........ It's fascinating and daringly honest how the author has brought this topic out in the open with its se Beauty, Destiny, and Money.....the trilogy that bounds women to an ugly fate. The title of the book caught my attention and had me thinking deeply. "If I had your face," would my life changed for the better? The bleak thought of getting a perfect face visited my mind once and had me the urge to get my face done in exchange for the belief that with a pretty face, life can be more beautiful........ It's fascinating and daringly honest how the author has brought this topic out in the open with its severity in Seoul, South Korea. In Asia, it is rather common to believe that a person's pretty facial features (beauty) could lead to a good fate (destiny) and fortune (money). Going under the knife has become the norm and hope for women to attain the impossible perfect beauty in exchange for a good life. Perhaps, for some, the change of one's face brings salvation from misery. Ms. Cha shedding light on the cruelty of beauty, destiny, and money, gripping the fate of many women across cultures and ages. Her book tells it all. Four women from South Korea, coming from different backgrounds and walk of life. We have Ara, Wonna, Kyuri, and Miho. Each of them taking turns telling their part of the heartbreaking story. Their struggles to meet the social norm's expectation, misogyny and sexism, wealth and poor distinction, getting married at age, and the pressure of raising children and family. Ara: Voiceless and contentious. Lost her voice from a brutal experience when younger and attempts to break free from her parents' circumstances who worked as servants in the rich house. Shunning their expectations for her future, she fled to the city and worked as a hairdresser. In her contempt, she seeks solace from the obsession over a K-Pop lead singer. Miho: Orphaned, artistic, and pretty. She tries to juggle between her humble upbringing and the high-class New York experiences. Dated a rich, handsome boyfriend, who later, through infidelity, betrayed her. Anguished, she then revenges. Wonna: Confused and desperate. Despite a few miscarriages in a longing desire to have a healthy baby, her recent pregnancy was a mixture of doubts and confusion. She battles the thoughts of surviving and losing the pregnancy. She and her husband lived paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet in competitive and expensive city life. Kyuri: Sad, human-made beauty, and conflicted. The desire for perfect beauty through plastic surgery had cost her ALL; money and body. She worked in a "room salon," where she sings drinks, serves, and entertains men. She was looked upon with disdain and disrespect. The conflicting conscience she's endured and tried to hold back even in the face of love, friendship, and family. Though she'd been lavished with branded materials and flashy clothing, her life was but none other than sadness. She envies people whom she sees as having luck falls into their lap. These women have one in common, their battle against the reality of surviving the fast-paced, attractive, yet cold, cruel, and materialistic world. A world where rich men are worship like kings, treated as first-class, and have all the say. A world where women are to look beautiful to win the game. If you don't, you are treated lower class? A world where sex and money are used to manipulate. The four women's destinies crossed paths and found comfort in the spirit of camaraderie. I loved the prose of the writing, simple and straight-forward. I loved how the author delicately and intensely tells her story. The characters and their voices felt real and relatable. Some of us may be Wonna, perhaps you are Miho, or your situation is like Ara? Or a little bit of everyone? Regardless, who or what you can relate to, I think this book is worth the read, not because of it's beautifully constructed contents and cover design. But, a wake-up call to rejustify the standard of beauty, right and wrong, and reconsider the beliefs we have taken into our arms just because the social norms said so. ** It's a short story; I would love it more if each character is elaborated more richly.

  29. 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.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    4.25/5 Stars I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but what I did not expect was to be completely mesmerized by its characters. I could not put this novel down, they were so interesting that I had to keep on reading to know their stories. The characters of this book are four women, who are different but also alike in some aspects. They are all dealing with their troubled past and facing their present and future in the best way they possibly can, even if it isn't always easy. The novel is in 4.25/5 Stars I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but what I did not expect was to be completely mesmerized by its characters. I could not put this novel down, they were so interesting that I had to keep on reading to know their stories. The characters of this book are four women, who are different but also alike in some aspects. They are all dealing with their troubled past and facing their present and future in the best way they possibly can, even if it isn't always easy. The novel is infused with different aspects of Korean culture, since the book is set in Seoul. I especially liked the focus put on beauty standards and the great lengths people go to in order to get near them as much as they can. It was very good food for thought and it definitely offered the chance to reflect on what society seems to demand from people and what burden this is for everyone. The concept of social hierarchies was also very interesting to read, especially in a Korean setting where I feel like this topic matters quite a lot to some people. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and I'm very curious to read whatever Franches Cha is going to write in the future.

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