If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha [in Booklist]
As former travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul, U.S.-Hong Kong-South Korea-raised and Brooklyn-domiciled Frances Cha writes exactingly of what she knows in her first novel. With unblinking focus, she confronts some of the darkest consequences of contemporary gender inequity by targeting the erasure of female individuality by oppressive beauty standards and expectations. Behind Korea’s internationally coveted imports – especially K-dramas and K-pop – is an obsession with plastic surgery, complicated by one of the world’s lowest birth rates and one of the highest suicide rates.
Into that unforgiving society, Cha’s magnificent tale introduces the women of Color House, an ironically all-gray Seoul apartment building. Four of its inhabitants take turns revealing their intertwined lives: hair stylist Ara, who lives with beauty-obsessed Sujin; their glamorous neighbor, Kyuri, who works in a “room salon,” where men spend substantially to drink with the city’s most beautiful women, and where Sujin hopes for an introduction post-metamorphosis; Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, whose art earned her an NYC education and relationship with an über-wealthy heir; and pregnant Wonna, who married the first and perhaps only kind man she’s ever known and who hopes she doesn’t lose another baby. Despite a society designed to stifle, these women manage to nurture mutual bonds for strength and survival.