‘If I Had Your Face’ is the debut book by Frances Cha.
Navigating this hyper-competitive city are four young women balancing on the razor-edge of survival: Kyuri, an exquisitely beautiful woman whose hard-won status at an exclusive ‘room salon’ is threatened by an impulsive mistake with a client; her flatmate Miho, an orphan who wins a scholarship to a prestigious art school in New York, where her life becomes tragically enmeshed with the super-wealthy offspring of the Korean elite; Wonna, their neighbour, pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they will afford to raise in a fiercely competitive economy; and Ara, a hair stylist living down the hall, whose infatuation with a fresh-faced K-Pop star drives her to violent extremes.
Over the last while, I’ve developed a bit of an interest in the Korean culture, particularly the K Pop genre and the obsession with achieving perfection physically. So, when I was offered the chance to read a book about Korea and the culture, I jumped at the opportunity.
The story is seen through the narrative of 4 women who all live in the same building. 3 of them are friends, Ara, Kyuri and Miho are friends whilst Wonna lives in the apartment below them.
Ara is a mute hair stylist, who lost her hearing in an attack, Kyuri is a room salon girl who entertains men at bars, pouring drinks and making them feel welcome as well as other job requirements, Miho is an aspiring artist who’s returned from studying in America with her boyfriend and Wonna is a terrified first time mother.
The story flows between the friendships and the neighbour, seamlessly going from each narrative only to come together neatly in the end.
The story is beautifully written with vivid descriptions of the town, the fashion and women themselves, Frances has a stunning flow with her writing that conjures up imagery with her descriptions.
The characters are wonderful to read and all flawed in their own way but all striving for perfection. Although Ara is unable to speak, she is one of the most sought after stylists. Although she appears meek, she is quick to write down her viewpoint. Kyuri is stunning, having created the perfect version of herself, she wishes for love, but sadly it is unrequited. Miho has used the death of her friend to make her art, she’s a bohemian character with a free whilst Wonna comes across as quite an unlikeable character who’s cold towards her husband, but she’s terrified of losing her baby and puts all her emotions into the baby.
I loved this story, from the vivid imagery, the characters and the dialogue, I was enthralled by it all. It was fascinating to read the extent of which women will go to achieve perfection, from the surgeries to the changing colour of the skin. It was also equally sad to read how much pressure they were under in their physical appearance as well as the traditional pressure of settling down and becoming a wife and mother.
With a cover that is my favourite of 2020, ‘If I Had Your Face’ is an unique tale. Observational and insightful, this book is a compelling debut that is culturally fascinating to read.
You can buy ‘If I Had Your Face’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.