Your search keywords:

‘Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories’ book review: A mixed bag of women’s stories

‘Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories’ book review: A mixed bag of women’s stories

Let me start with a short disclaimer. I love short stories. I’m a sucker for stories that are a few pages long, especially when there’s a lot of work and I can’t seem to concentrate on longer works of fiction. Short stories also help me get out of the inevitable reading slump. Here, I must admit that I’m not very happy with how much I’ve read this year. Apart from a few rereads and some odd slim novels here and there, I haven’t enjoyed many of the books I’ve picked up.

A short story collection is always a safe bet. I don’t have to invest much time and mental energy into getting to know a character. And since a story takes an hour or two at the most to finish, I feel like I’ve at least accomplished my reading goal for the day. I’ve mostly gravitated toward horror stories like Bora Chung’s ‘Cursed Bunny’ and Carmen Marie Machado’s ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ which is why Cho Nam Joo’s ‘Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories’ was such a refreshing read.

Cho is the author of the best-selling novel ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ which sparked a debate on feminism in South Korea while catapulting the writer to global fame when the book was longlisted for the United States National Book Award. Cho is known for highlighting gender inequality and misogyny in South Korea. Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories is a collection of eight stories about women from all walks of life. They are stories of life in South Korea from a female perspective. But the themes—loneliness, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, aging etc.—are universal.

What I liked about the book is that the stories aren’t dramatic but they leave you with some important messages—they might be things you already know and experience but you might have seldom paid attention to them. Women often make room for misogyny by not speaking up and letting things slide, and Cho draws our attention to that. She writes about the invisible labor women put in at home, work, and society at large, celebrating all the ‘little things’ they do to keep the ball rolling. In one of the stories, a neglected worker quits and the entire office starts to malfunction. In most of the stories, women are often repressed and maybe even unaware of what they want.

Some stories were a let-down. They felt a bit too cliché, like ‘Dear Hyunnam Oppa’ where a woman writes a letter to her boyfriend of 10 years, who has just proposed to her, listing out all the reasons why she doesn’t want to marry him. It felt too generic and forced. In ‘Puppy Love’, which explores love during Covid-19, the narrative ends abruptly, leaving you feeling unsettled. But that could have easily just been me and not a problem with the stories. Perhaps, I couldn’t relate to them. Maybe you will. With Cho, you never know, as her writing has the potential to tap into long-dormant emotions.

Short stories

Miss Kim Knows and Other Stories

Cho Nam-Joo

Translated by Jamie Chang

Published: 2023

Publisher: Scribner

Pages: 218, Paperback