SEOUL – South Korean writer Cho Nam-joo, author of “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982,” has said her bestseller, which is somewhat of a reference for the feminist movement in her home country, has transcended her to take on a life of its own.
“The story of Kim Ji-young is no longer mine alone,” Cho told EFE of her book, which was published at the end of 2016 and became the first in a decade to sell over 1 million copies in South Korea.
Her story has gone on to become a generational testament for many South Koreans.
Cho believed that at this point her book, recently adapted for cinema, is something to expand, motivate more people to talk, reflect and debate with one another.
The book tells the tale of Kim Ji-young, who becomes a first-time mother at 33 in a world where men rule.
“From the beginning I wanted the novel to reach and move as many women as possible,” said Cho.
“I took experiences told by women on internet forums and reports, interviews and books on the life and work of various women as a reference,” said the author, who like her protagonist left her job as a screenwriter upon giving birth to her daughter.
In an interview with EFE, Cho explained how women born in the early 1980s in South Korea came into a world that was on the brink of change but still deeply steeped in tradition.
“(The character) represents that generation born and raised at a time marked by certain improvements, although incipient, in terms of sexual discrimination in South Korea,” she said.
“These women had better access to education and socio-economic opportunities than their older mothers or sisters. However, they were frustrated by the discriminatory traditions, practices and laws that prevailed and still exist,” she added.
“My intention was to talk about that generation, about those women who because of that gap precisely feel even more defeated and confused. Some say that the reality of women has greatly improved with respect to the past.”
But things have changed significantly since that period and the Asian country has not been immune to the #MeToo movement that has rippled across the globe.
“I think South Koreans, above all women, we’re passing through an important time. We’re very active. We’re in the streets protesting. And that’s leading to positive changes,” she said. “Female protagonism is growing in literature and in culture in general, while images or sexist and discriminatory messages are diminishing.”
Cho said activism and solidarity between women has been key in legal advances in the past two years, with her country toughening up punishments for sex crimes and the Constitutional Court ruling that a ban on abortion was unconstitutional.
“If until recently there’s more of a feeling of defeat or cynicism, now women themselves are witnesses to the fact our voices can change the world. And I think that my novel tunes into this,” she told EFE.
Her book has also had an influence on politics, with new rules approved on routing out workplace discrimination being referred to as “Kim Ji-young laws.”
When asked if she considers herself a feminist she said: “In my opinion, feminism is a value that advocates that no one misses opportunities, sees their possibilities limited or are threatened or exposed to violence because of their gender.
“In this sense, ‘Kim Ji-young, Born 1982’ is a feminist novel and I am a feminist. Feminism is not a qualification or a criterion of censorship. It is an orientation and attitude. From my point of view, the word feminism should not be used so strictly,” she added.
Cho’s book which has sold copies across 19 countries is unlikely to disappear from the South Korean cultural scene anytime soon.
“Kim Ji-young has become something like the personal pronoun of all Korean women. She is the exponent of Korean women in their thirties who share common experiences, feelings and dilemmas,” she said. “But, I reject those pronouns, since what I wish is that everyone can live as an individual with their own problems, experiences and future.”