I first heard of the book, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha when I interviewed Anne Napolitano, author of Dear Edward, for my book club. One of my favorite question to ask an author is what they are currently reading. Anne discussed If I Had Your Face and how the beauty expectations of Korea had her enamored and turning the pages. I immediately added If I Had Your Face to my list and was able to get around to reading it this month.
Set in Seoul, Korea, five women with different lives, goals, and aspirations navigate life in a culture with countless expectations, unrealistic beauty and life standards, and constant comparison and judgement. What begin as relationships of convenience, turn into friendships that save each of them in a different way.
Kyuri, Mino, Ara, Sujin, and Wonna all live in the same office-tel and are battling different issues and traumas. What I loved about Cha's writing is that each character shed a different light on a cultural aspect of Korea. From K-pop fan obsession, to the beauty industry, to after hours room salons, to patriarchy and caste systems, this book could have been 600+ pages, but she was able to jam all this into a relatively short novel. Like any book with multiple characters, I found some storylines more interesting than others. Kyuri was intriguing as she works in one of the top room salons, but endured countless surgeries to perfect her face to even get the job. She makes a poor decision involving one of the room salon's wealthy clientele that almost costs her everything. I also found Ara interesting, as she is a mute girl working in a hair salon. I wanted to know her back story SO bad and that kept me turning the pages to get to her chapters. I will say, when I found out what happened to her, I was left with unanswered questions and yearning for more.
My only complaint is that I wanted a bit more character development. I tend to get *over* invested in characters and there were parts of their backstories that I wanted shored up a bit.
"For its millions of people, Korea is the size of a fish bowl and someone is always looking down on someone else."