FLAWLESS

LESSONS IN LOOKS AND CULTURE FROM THE K-BEAUTY CAPITAL

Hu’s study of Korea’s beauty cult is fascinating and disturbing, woven with threads of dark humor and personal experience.

The host of “TED Talks Daily” and host at large for NPR shines a bright light into the shadowy world of manufactured beauty and endless “self-improvement.”

There is a Korean phrase, bbali bbali, which means fast, fast. Hu, a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award, among others, believes it sums up South Korea’s rush into hypermodernity. When she arrived in Seoul in 2015 to establish a bureau for NPR, she was stunned by the cult of beauty that grips Korean women. The aim of Western cosmetics is often to accentuate natural features, but in South Korea, the goal is skin that seems so perfect it needs nothing else. The beauty industry in Korea relies on intensive research and marketing by the skin care firms, which provide a continuing procession of products. The author also looks at the massive business of cosmetic surgery, which can amend any part of the body. This is less about self-expression and more about an aspiration toward perfection: blemish-free skin, long, shining hair, a narrow nose, anime-size eyes, a delicate jawline, and legs shaped to meet a mathematical formula. It ultimately leads to a sameness of look, but Korean women see it as a necessary investment for social success, and the few who buck the trend face ostracism. Looking at this endless commodification of the female body, Hu asks: “Where do we draw the line on appearance work when the work gets less and less invasive and previously impossible changes become possible?” She also notes that some women, accustomed to the filtered images on Snapchat and Instagram, want to be “improved” to look like their digital images. These trends, exacerbated by social media and Korea’s export marketing machine, are having a global impact, including in the U.S. Hu is unsure about how these issues will play out, but she hopes that there will be a turn away from relentless superficiality. She is a capable guide to the current fraught landscape.

Hu’s study of Korea’s beauty cult is fascinating and disturbing, woven with threads of dark humor and personal experience.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9780593184189

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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