Cover Image: If I Had Your Face

If I Had Your Face

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Member Reviews

We follow a group of young modern women who are friends and neighbors as they make their way in a world that still puts importance on looks, getting married and having children. They all secretly fight their insecurities and wish they were prettier. They think the beautiful women have an easier life, but this is not true. The plastic surgeons are producing a conveyor belt of women who all look the same. Would it not be better to embrace your individuality? They are jealous of others and what they have. Thinking the grass is greener, but actually it's not. 

I found this book a bit hard going, there's not much light relief and I didn't warm to the characters. But still an interesting read. 3.5 stars
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Kyuri, Miho, Wonna, Ara - four women living in Seoul, South Korea, and all in their own way affected by the current culture's obsession with what face looks like a good, acceptable face, and how young women should act and look like. Kyuri has a face that she's spent thousands on to look perfect but she is horrid debt and under control of her madam and the room salon, Miho is a carefree artist that is naturally beautiful but she's too poor for her rich boyfriend to ever be allowed to marry her, Ara is plain and happy that way, mute due to a childhood accident and obsessed with a K-Pop star. And Wonna is older, and more damaged than the rest, and starting out a pregnancy she is terrified to reveal, revel in or lose.

I ended up really enjoying this book for a myriad of reasons. The writing itself was very pleasant to read, was clear in its intentions and the timeline/pace of the story was fast and immersive. I really felt at times that I was in the rooms with the girls and hanging out with them and listening to their conversations. There was something attractive about them all and I genuinely liked them, faults and all. I wanted to protect them yet at the same time, enjoy life with them.

I feel this book gives a really interesting glimpse at the toxic beauty standards that is so rife in South Korea and Asian culture. I had been aware of some of it before - the skin bleaching, extreme diets and exercise from K-Pop stars (or factories) - but seeing how it affects ordinary girls and how the desire to look a certain way can lead them to an almost 'acceptable' version of prostitution was almost hard to believe. The book also did a good job at really showing the class divide in South Korea too - the difference between growing up rich or being one of the chaebol, and growing up with little to no money - the lack of opportunity people got and how young women had to look at a future where they would never be able to afford their own homes.

I wish we got a bit more - I wonder if we need Wonna at all considering the rest of the book was focused on younger characters in a different stage of life. I liked the female friendship and how they came together near the end but I'm not sure if Wonna's POV gave anything particularly new or striking to the story in comparison to the others. The ending was slightly abrupt but left off with a nice image of women supporting women.
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“I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face”

This novel tells the story of four different women and their perspectives towards South Korea’s beauty standards. As a fan of K-pop and K-dramas, I had a general understanding of how different the beauty standards and woman’s positions in modern day society was in Korean culture. Good looking people are placed on a higher pedestal than those who aren’t as attractive. 

My general understanding is that beauty is almost your entire identity, and it matters greatly how you look. The jobs you get, and the way people treat you are based on how pretty you are. It’s a horrific reality that many women face today. 

I wished we had gotten to learn more of the women as individuals outside of the main themes. There might have been too many stories to tell, and too many problems to address that the characters lacked depth, in my opinion. 

However, that doesn’t change the fact that I did enjoy reading this book. This book wasn’t afraid to address sexism and patriarchal suppression, as well as the suffocating beauty standards that society as a whole place on women from a very young age. I would highly recommend giving this book a try if you are interested in the dark side of beauty standards, especially in a modern day setting. 

Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Books (UK) for this advanced reader's copy of 'If I Had Your Face' by Francesca Cha
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I received a free e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

[This review will be posted on my blog on 28 April 2021]

If I Had Your Face was a fascinating and compelling read, exploring modern Korean womanhood, sexism, gender roles and expectations, class, financial insecurity and the beauty industry. 

Told from four different perspectives, it has a very 'slice-of-life' feel to it. It is about the lives of four women who live in the same apartment block in Seoul. Not only do we follow their present lives, but each character shares significant memories from their past that led them to this point. I felt really invested in all of their narratives, although some were more developed than others. I was also impressed by how distinct each narrative voice was. I was never confused about whose perspective I was reading. 

Kyuri is a room salon girl (basically an escort at an expensive club who pours drinks for rich men and chats to them.) She has spent a lot of money on plastic surgery to appeal to the men she sees. She drinks a lot, and she's always in debt due to the pressure to adhere to stringent beauty standards. 
Ara is a hairdresser and is mute. She is obsessed with an idol from a boy band, whom she is desperate to meet. 
Miho is Kyuri's roomate, and an artist. Despite being an orphan, she got a scholarship to study in America, and has a rich boyfriend. 
Wonna is a married woman who lives on the floor below the other girls. She is unhappy in her marriage, and desperately wants a child. 

I felt like Wonna's chapters weren't as developed as the others, and it takes a while for it to become clear why she was included. I didn't connect that all four women lived in the same apartment building until a lot later in the book. 

In the end I found all four stories to be compelling, and they show a range of experiences of working class women in Seoul. The overall tone is quite dark, and frankly kind of depressing at times, but it ended on a somewhat lighter note, which I appreciated. 

I'd recommend for fans of literary fiction, women's fiction, and those who are interested in Korean society and culture (especially through a feminist lens).
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Drawn in my the cover alone, I truly had no idea what I was getting into when I started If I Had Your Face but I was fascinated from the beginning.

Set in Seoul, Korea, If I Had Your Face follows four young women - Kyuri, Miho, Ara and Wonna - as they navigate their young lives, each with their own set of challenges.

Written in a very 'slice of life' way, it discusses Korean culture, class and social hierarchy and most engrossing, the obsession of beauty and the surgeries that these women go through in attempt to meet the incredibly high beauty standards.

Unfortunately for. me, I felt like the author tried to fit too many perspectives into too little pages. Wonna's character was far less developed than the others and didn't feel like an integral part to the story. More page time with the other three women could have made this a stronger book overall.

Never the less, I really enjoyed learning more about Korean culture and look forward to reading more of the author's work.
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Fantastic. A powerful look into another culture, I loved it. I’m quite ignorant about South Korea and this gave me a real insight into some of the issues that women face there.
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I am genetically blessed with what some refer to as ‘good skin’. I never had pimples as a teen and I’ve never worn makeup. My skin routine is essentially washing my face with water and using a supermarket moisturiser when I remember. When I was 42, a cosmetic-surgeon-acquaintance told me that Botox at my age was ‘pointless because the wrinkles were already there’. Apparently you need to start young so that you never have any wrinkles to smooth out in the first place. Thankfully I don’t care about wrinkles and nor was I in anyway offended that the acquaintance assumed Botox was on my radar!

Anyway, this is a long introduction to Frances Cha’s accomplished and fascinating debut, If I Had Your Face.

The story is set in Seoul, Korea and focuses on four young women, each grappling with Korea’s particularly high standards of beauty, strict social hierarchies, and misogynist society – the connection between beauty, money and power is hardly new, however Cha offers fresh perspective.

It’s a character driven novel and although each of the women will stay with me for different reasons, Kyuri’s story was the most compelling. Kyuri, who had had more cosmetic procedures than she could count, is in debt to the manager of the ‘room salon’ where she works, entertaining wealthy businessmen. She works to save for more procedures, hoping to secure a position at a better salon. And the cycle continues. Ultimately she has no economic power and therefore is completely vulnerable.

I’m sorely tempted by the ‘Strapless Package’, which includes Botox for the back of the shoulders, ‘fat kill’ injections for the underarms, and a choice between Healite II LED therapy or cryotherapy… Going down the list, I am reminded I need more armpit whitening and lip edge injections because the little curls on either side of my lips have begun to droop. 

The women’s stories intersect in numerous ways. Many of the issues the women face are universal, particularly in regards to complicated relationships, pressures from family, and career decisions. Cha manages to capture both the competitiveness between the women and the emotional intimacy, as well as exploring themes of escaping the past and determining one’s own future.

There are scenes in this book that are shocking – swift and stark, and each mirrored the way ‘incidents’ were handled in the room salon where, in the face of trouble, the women bowed their heads, ‘accepted’ responsibility, and wordlessly watched their debt mount.

Cha positions cosmetic surgery as a necessity in Korea, rather than a vanity. It is a thought provoking perspective on ever-escalating consumerism and, combined with glimpses of Korean popular culture, it makes for a fascinating and unexpectedly gripping novel.

4/5 I look forward to reading more from Cha in the future.

I received my copy of If I Had Your Face from the publisher, Penguin Books UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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I have reviewed this book very positively on my YouTube channel Drinking By My Shelf - amazing characters and writing
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Set in contemporary South Korea, this book follows the lives of a group of young women all connected in some way. Plastic Surgery is the norm, and most young women participate in order to further their careers. 

Ara is mute, she's a hairstylist, and a superfan of the boyband "Crown". 
Kyuri works at a room salon as an escort of sorts. Kyuri has had extensive surgery done, but at what cost?
Wonna lives with her husband, who she married mainly because his mother had died, and therefore could not interfere with their marriage.
Miho is an artist who is dating a wealthy socialite. She lives with Sujin, who dreams of becoming a room girl just like Kyuri.

This was so different to anything I've read before, and I really enjoyed it. It was definitely much darker at times than I thought it would be, and I get the feeling that we barely scratched the surface of the murky world of surgeries and room girls.
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began utterly loving this book. I was thrown into a world and a culture I know nothing about. The characters are vibrant and interesting, their backstories enthralling. I do so love something that is character driven, and the 4 characters driving this story are engrossing.

The story focuses a lot on the Korean beauty industry and the cultural norms placed on Korean women. The influence this outright societal sexism has on their respective lives cannot be understated. These women's lives are dominated both by tradition and by the wealth (or lack of it) of the men around them. Most of them are powerless to influence their own destiny. I was equally fascinated and horrified by this. In some ways these women seem shallow and calculating, but we begin to realise that they are just a product of the society around them. Their world demands certain things of them, and then frowns on them for aspiring to reach these things. They can't win.

    "I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face"

But...and this is a big but, I think this book spreads itself too thin. It felt like it was just getting going when I reached the last page. We never quite get any of their stories fully, and it feels like so much is left unresolved. We barely touch the surface of some of the issues that Cha raises; prostitution, class, sexism, oppression, image. It's like several times the author held open a door saying 'look at this, isn't it interesting' and then slammed it in our faces again, never to revisit it.

    “It's basic human nature, this need to look down on someone to feel better about yourself.”

I'm still giving this book 4 stars - I love the style and the characters are fantastic. I just needed more, so much more. I would have really preferred it if the book had followed just one or two of the protagonists' stories, and done it in much more depth. But this is a book from an exceptionally talented writer and still a great read. Cha has a skill for summarising ideas in simple yet evocative language so despite my frustration at wanting more, I would still recommend it.
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Not the worst book I've ever read, but I quickly lost interest the the various characters' threads, and some of the subjects that did spark interest were too briefly touched upon and then the story moved on. I just couldn't get through more than a third of the book and I didn't have the inclination to pick it back up. A shame as the book and the premise had potential, but it was very un-dymanic in execution.
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I started off with this and several pages in I wasn't convinced I could stick with it but so glad I did as I ended up enjoying it far more than I thought. 
I loved the 4 different characters, all very different and complex and each POV read like a mini story. I liked the insight into Korean culture of which I knew nothing about and I admit that at time I had to look definitions up ( don't let this put you off!). It was also a bit of a culture shock to me as well . This would make a great little TV series I think.
Many thanks Netgalley
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This book had me split for quite some time. Initially, I felt that all the character's seemed a bit bland, however, the development of each of their stories really brings them to life and changed my mind about this book entirely.

I liked the multiple POV nature of this book and found the characters strikingly different once you got to know them. All 4 of the female protagonists have experienced highs and lows in their lives, which makes them incredibly endearing and you find yourself rooting for all of them in different aspects. As a character-driven story, you get to understand the intertwined nature of the 4 women (Kyuri, Ara, Wonna and Miho) and their wider friendship group which is intriguing, but their ever-growing relationships as a 4 are what drives the story and keeps you reading.

I did feel that it was one of those books where I just wanted a little more, I felt that the ending although nice was a bit 'meh'. I also felt that although this book explains a number of issues facing women in Korea, it could feel a little check list-y but I felt all of the issues were addressed really well.

I loved the fact that Frances Cha highlights some of the harsh culture norms and stereotypes that women are expected to adhere to in Korea, from misogyny, sexism, sex work and the requirement to panda to the need's and desire's of rich men to the darker class system, economic issues, the consumerist nature of the economy and the cosmetic surgery industry which thrives on imposing western beauty standards on these women, where your face can be your fortune ("I would live your life so much better than you if I had your face"). The way in which Frances Cha attacks theses subjects left me scribbling quotes down left, right and centre!

This book really made me think about a culture I know very little about and a life of cultural norms and stereotypes that are infuriating as a woman. I could go on about this book for quite some time, but I will leave you with my recommendation (particularly for women) and a final quote to make you think “They are no better than the managers and the pimps and the politicians and the policemen and the public who vilify only the girls. "This was your choice", they say. They are gutter trash, every last one of them”.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC of If I Had Your Face!
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I absolutely enjoyed this title, told through the perspectives of young women in Seoul. This touches on relationships, motherhood, plastic surgery, idolisation of K-pop stars, city and country differences, inter-generational conflict, orphanhood and financial insecurity. Though the narrative does switch a brisk pace between each character's point of view, I found this made it easy to read over several sittings.  Each woman is a complex character, rarely likeable, yet not abhorrent enough to put you off reading.
My one critique was that the plot did not really progress anywhere meaningful. I was expecting a crescendo of events, but there was no culmination of the narrative, nor resolution to many of the issues. 
An impressive debut nonetheless.
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Have you ever read a book where you are in two minds about how you feel? This one started off a little meh but for some reason I just couldn't stop reading. It could have been the characters, the setting or the sheer force of will to enjoy it but I’m glad I stuck with it. 

So this one revolves around 4 women, all of which live in the same building complex in Seoul, South Korea. Each has their own story to tell, having experienced both highs and lows throughout their life time. While evry character is different, they all have their own endearing aspects for the audience. While initially all seeming a little bland, upon hitting the second round of each characters’ point of view chapter, the reader begins to gain a better understanding as to why each is the way they are.

Having very little understanding on the Korean way of life, I found myself a tad lost at times and googling many a definition or picture of a product or place in order to adequately understand what exactly was happening. This is in no way a criticism of the novel, instead it is a recognition of my inability to fully appreciate where this tale was actually going.

The relationships between each of the women are for the most part loving and sisterly, with the exception of Wonna, the pregnant downstairs neighbour. While each person has their own outlook and path in life, they all seem to support the other unconditionally and really only seem to be out to see the best in each other while endlessly lifting each other up in a society where women are generally seen as ‘less’.

Overall it was a tale that really made me think about stereotypes in society and just how much we as women seem to covet that which others have. It gave a rare insight into the struggles of a country of people who are generally seen by the rest of the world as ‘the beautiful people’. Definitely worth a read if you are into novels that explore female bonding, found family and the power of friendship.
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This is an incredibly impressive debut, and I will recommend this to friends. The novel follows a collection of women who live in the same apartment block, all at slightly different stages in their lives but all battling their own demons in their own way. It's a great insight into Korean culture, and I was particularly fascinated with room salon culture and Korean cosmetic surgery: so interesting! 

I did occasionally find it tricky to follow which character we were with, as there were a lot of POV characters we switch between. For me it would have been stronger with more time with each, perhaps with fewer characters. But by the end I was settled with each character and interested in each one's story.
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South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world. K-Pop and K-Drama stars set benchmarks of beauty that cannot be reached without significant cosmetic reconstruction. The characters in Frances Cha’s new book If I Had Your Face, know all of this, and yet some of them mortgage their lives to the industry anyway in the hopes of bettering themselves.
Ara lives with Sujin, both are across the hall from Kyuri and Miho. Kyuri is a “room salon girl”, she has had, and continues to have, numerous surgeries so that she is one of the “top 10%” in beauty. But the room salons are essentially high price brothels where rich men go to live out their fantasies with compliant women. Despite knowing this, Sujin is “hell bent” on joining Kyuri. She scrapes together the money to have surgery that leaves her bandaged and in pain for the majority of the book. Ara supports Sujin in her recovery and while Ara does not seek out the surgery herself, obsesses over a K-Pop star who himself is an avatar of Korean celebrity culture. Ara is mute due to an incident when she was younger and works in a hair salon. Meanwhile Miho, an artist returned from a scholarship in New York, has a wealthy well-connected boyfriend, a relationship that is itself like something out of a K-Drama but with less likelihood of a happy ending. And downstairs is Wonna, older than the young women above her, who finds herself pregnant and unsupported by her husband.
There is not much plot to If I Had Your Face, it is more a series of character studies and revelations about Korean society and culture. Cha does delve into the character’s backstories and there is a forward momentum to their present lives but it is more a description of day-to-day events. These characters are all at the bottom of the tree, they keep finding themselves butting up against the classism that is also holding them back. As Miho observes:
That’s Just the way it is in this country, and the reason why people ask a series of rapid-fire questions the minute they meet you. Which neighbourhood did you live in? Where did you go to school? Where do you work? Do you know so-and-so? They pinpoint where you are on the national scale of status, then spit you out in a heartbeat.
This is not all an indictment on Korean society. The characters may have it tough but they support each other through their struggle. But they are not paragons either, all are drawn as complicated and complex. And while there is no real resolution for any of them when the book ends, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for most.
With Parasite (which has very similar themes) winning a best picture Oscar highlighting the strength of the Korean film industry, K-Drama beaming across the world through streaming services, and K-Pop fans taking on Donald Trump, it feels like Korean culture is in the spotlight. If I Had Your Face is a rich and nuanced look into this culture through the eyes of a group of engaging if challenged women. While Cha does expose a culture riven by class and a dark underbelly of exploitation, the characters point of view shows that while life is tough, for them it is also mostly positive.
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This was a really interesting novel, following four young women in South Korea, a country and culture I know little about. The author plunged me into a world of unattainable beauty standards, definitely rivalling anything we see in the West. We go from secret beauty salons, through K-pop culture and into the rigid social hierarchies of Korean society. We follow Kyuri, a beautiful young woman, who has managed to attain a job in a top secret bar where she entertains businessmen as they drink. She tells us that she always knew she would have to change her face - a knowledge conformed by the fortune teller she visits, Miho, Kyuri’s flatmate, has returned to Korea from NYC where she has been studying art. From very humble beginnings, Miho has studied on scholarships and has now reached upper echelons of society as the girlfriend of the heir of a very wealthy business empire. However it may be that Minho’s position is more precarious than she thinks. Ara has an obsession with the young, pretty star of a boy band and a best friend who is saving up for extreme plastic surgery - which seems to be the norm. Wonna is the only married member of the quartet and is preoccupied trying to have a baby that’s expected of newlyweds, but totally unaffordable in a difficult economy, 

I enjoyed reading about this very different culture and it’s strict rules versus modern preoccupations, it was like a culture shock in a book, However, I wondered whether the author had spread her story and the women’s issues slightly too thin. I read it as Kyuri’s story, with the other three as side characters to bring in further depth. I felt we maybe ended up with so many different aspects of the culture that the author couldn’t develop storylines to their required depth. Or at least the depth I wanted. I felt Kyuri had the most obvious and well plotted story arc so it may have worked to focus on her, and delve into deeper into her world which was borderline dangerous for the girls involved. The salon girls are not all fortunate enough to earn good money and stay safe - Cha touches on this by hinting at women who fall into prostitution and become vilified in a society where the men using the girls services are overlooked. She even hints at girls who are beaten or even worse, and like other reviewers I wanted to know about these girls and what backgrounds they’d come from. Similarly, Ara is not explored fully. Her profession as a stylist and hairdresser for celebrity clients is interesting, especially when she attacks a colleague at work - but it is a thread that isn’t picked up. However, I loved the informal and chatty style of the narration and the window Cha grants into a contemporary Asian society I know little about. I most definitely wanted to know more and would read the author again.
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I feel like this book had a lot of potential but was trying to do too much in too short an amount of time.
This follows four Korean women who each have a fascinating history and lifestyle but are all interconnected through friendships, or roommate situations, or sleeping with someone else's boyfriend. 
At the beginning, I couldn't put the book down because I was so swept up in the everyday lives of these vastly different women and wanted to know everything about them. Towards the halfway point of the book, however, the stories that needed more attention were thinned out and every time we would get a glimpse at something more, something more political, or more real, the narration would jump to someone else and would leave me dissatisfied. Not because I wasn't able to wait but because even though I made it through the book, we only scratched the surface of so many topics that could have really been expanded on in meaningful ways. Like I said, I guess there were just not enough pages to go deep enough for me to form connections to the characters.
Loved the easy writing style, though, because it made me fly through the pages!
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An amazing and haunting novel that sucked me into a gaudy, glittering yet unforgiving world.  The importance of physical beauty is something any female reader can relate to, but this novel reveals the practical, cut-throat necessity of looks in a contemporary South Korean society.  My jaw was dropping at the gruesome detail of popular plastic surgery and the lengths people will go to for self-improvement. With tender skill, the author sharply comments on sexual politics and class divide.
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