The novel follows five young women, all who live in the same building, as they navigate life and try to figure out what they should be doing with their lives. Not only was this a sad and insightful look into the lives of young women in Seoul, it was also a sad and sweet look into a culture that I did not know much about.
Kyuri is a young woman who has had several facial surgeries to be as beautiful as she can be. She works in a "salon room" which is basically, as it sounds, a strip joint with less nudity but the possibility of sex later. Men go in to let lose and the women who work in the salons are forced to keep the men happy, pretend like they are part of the furniture, and drink as much as the men give them. Miho is an artist who is engaged to a man she is not sure she wants to marry. However, this man has a social status that makes him useful, and that is what all of the girls want, someone with status so they can leave the lives they have behind. Ara is a mute who is a hair stylist, and very popular among certain social status symbols. She can't speak but she wants more for her life, and she knows that life is hard due to the accident which caused her to lose her voice. Ara's roommate wants to become a salon room girl like Kyuri, and her arc follows this lead as well. Then there is Wonna, the young married woman who lives downstairs.
The novel is a little heartbreaking because of the pressure the women feel to be or look a certain way. There is so much put on social status and looks that it causes discomfort. I felt that the heartache of the women was something that I would never fully understand, being born in the US and having the ability to easily build myself and my life up. It was surprising how important the "right school" was for the women, or anyone in the Korean society to succeed. The fact that someone feels that she has to completely rebuild her face, even if it causes numbness and the loss of feeling in part of her face, to be successful, is an insane idea. I don't know how real this and the thoughts of social status is in real life, but this novel, just like the novel My Sister The Serial Killer, gave me an insight to a society that I have never experienced.
I felt for all of the women, that Wonna married because the man she married was "fine" was a sad reason to marry someone. There was no discussion of love or being happy, only making sure that who you married could lift you up or take care of you.
I think this is a novel more people should read. It had great insights into the lives of the Korean women, and offered a view of what other women go through to try having a good, successful, or fulfilling life.
I highly recommend this novel.