Author: Frances Cha
Pub. Date: Apr. 2020 (read Jan. 2022 on Audible)
If I Had Your Face has been on my radar since it was nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2020, but a year later I felt like I suddenly started seeing it pop up everywhere, so I decided to listen to the audiobook while puzzling one weekend. I ended up listening to the whole thing in just 2 days!
As with most audiobooks with multiple character perspectives, I did find it a little challenging to keep track of all the characters at the beginning. I wasn’t sure if the four women featured were all connected with one another and it was hard for me to keep the protagonists straight from the side characters (because I kept expecting some of the side characters in the early chapters to also be protagonists). But I made a few references to the synopsis and eventually I was able to sort everyone out.
I really liked this book. I can see how it won’t be for everyone. Some of the characters are kind of polarizing and this is a really different perspective from what you get in a lot of mainstream literature. White people (and I’m including myself in this) – you probably aren’t going to have a lot of reference for some of the content of this book, which for me made it a bit unrelatable, but was ultimately why I enjoyed it so much. That’s the benefit of having access to all sorts of stories from all over the world. This gave me a perspective I definitely didn’t have before. I honestly felt at times like I was reading dystopian fantasy with all the talk of changing faces and I appreciate that this broadened my world view.
If I Had Your Face is set in South Korea and focuses on 4 women living in the same apartment building. Some of them know each other and are friends and they flit in and out of each others lives. Ara works in a hair salon while supporting her friend through extensive cosmetic surgery and fantasizing about meeting her favourite K-Pop band. Kyuri has already had cosmetic surgery to transform her face and works in a “room salon”, entertaining business men to pay off the debt for her surgeries. Miho is classically beautiful and works as an artist after studying abroad in New York. And Wonna is a young mother-to-be struggling to decide what to do about her upcoming maternity leave.
The author covers a lot of ground in a short period of time and I liked that she explores so many different perspectives. Wonna’s storyline felt a bit out of place compared to the others since she was the only one who didn’t really know the other women, but I thought her perspective was just as interesting and brought something different to the table. Beauty and sexism are key themes in the novel and I LOVE the title of this book and how well it ties into the story, because I think “if I had your face” really captures the entire essence of this book. Every single one of these women is chasing after some kind of ideal and it hasn’t made any of them happy.
I know people have cosmetic surgery all over the world, but it’s not really something that’s talked about in any meaningful way rather than to be dismissive about it. For Kyuri, changing her face was a way to chase a better life for herself, while also keeping her more entrapped than even. I thought that the room salon would be a rather shameful place, yet here’s Ara’s roommate, saving up to change her face so that she can have the opportunity to work in one! Then there’s Miho, who is already classically beautiful. She has the envy of her friends that she doesn’t need to change her face and that she has the privilege to make art (something she loves) and get paid for it. Yet Miho is unhappy too and mistreated by her boyfriend.
Wonna gives us one more perspective of life after marriage, yet even with a husband, she struggles to get pregnant and then faces terrible discrimination at her work. It’s almost like if you’re a woman, who can’t win. And that is kind of the point in a lot of the world isn’t it. Wonna reminded me a bit of Kim Jiyoung, which is another novel that came out of South Korea and examines the sexism women face on a daily basis.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s not long enough. I rarely say that about any book, if anything I think a lot of books are longer than they need to be. But for so many characters and such a short book, I don’t think the author was able to truly give each of these characters the depth they deserve. I felt like some aspects of the plot were skipped over and I wasn’t given enough context to understand all of the characters motivations. But I also appreciated that this was really just a snapshot into the lives of 4 different women. I felt a bit like a fly on the wall during a moment in time.
So don’t go into this looking for a plot driven, fully fleshed out story, but take it for what it is – a brief glimpse into the lives of each one of these fascinating women.