If I Had Your Face
by Frances Cha
released April 7, 2020
ISBN: 978-0593129463

This novel is an immersive dive into the fierce anxieties and hopes of young women in an unforgiving world where beauty is currency and success depends on your facial symmetry and who you know.

The novel takes place in South Korea, mostly in trendy neighborhoods of Seoul, but also into the small backwoods town where a few of the girls grew up. At issue is a suffocating patriarchy that simultaneously punishes women for becoming mothers, but also bemoans the dropping birthrate.

Kyuri (my favorite of the girls) has a coveted and high profile job working in a room salon, offering party companionship to wealthy men in the evenings. It was unclear to me if all the women in room salons were prostitutes or not; Kyuri certainly is. Extraordinarily beautiful due to the multiple plastic surgeries that have put her in significant debt, she is living the good life, but is very aware that she has a shelf life.

Ara, her neighbor, is mute as a result of a brutal attack suffered when she was young. Being not as pretty as the other girls, she finds work as a hair dresser. Her thoughts are consumed with Taein, a k-pop star.

Miho, Kyuri's roommate, is a naturally beautiful artist whose thoughts are generally somewhere else. Although she began life as a penniless orphan, her artistic talents have found her swept into the world of the wealthiest Korean young people, such as her extravagantly wealthy boyfriend, whose devotion puzzles the other girls.

Wonna, a chronically unhappy married woman who also lives in the building, is an interesting study in contrasts. Pregnant and consumed with anxiety, she longs for belonging and love, but a childhood of abuse has taught her only to lash out.

I felt a sisterly kinship to these young women as they struggled in their relationships and careers, cheering with them in their successes and experiencing their righteous indignation when wronged. It tells a tale of sisterhood that transcends culture and will resonate with women the world over, and is recommended for anyone looking for a good, dark study of humanity.

arc received from the publisher for review