If you follow South Korean cultural exports — and who doesn’t after “Parasite” bagged the Academy Award for best picture this year — you’d be forgiven for thinking that modern Korea is a tough place to live. It is often portrayed as a sci-fi dystopia, riven by class divisions, where depressed labor drones toil away in a soulless daze, killing themselves at alarming rates. And that’s just the men.

A closer look at how women are navigating the mean streets of Seoul is Frances Cha’s debut novel, “If I Had Your Face.” Published in the U.S. last month, it is a story of gender inequality and lives ruled by the money of men, of impossible beauty standards and their effect on Korean women. For Cha’s characters, the sole means for advance is their looks, which must follow the dictates of girl bands and plastic surgery.

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