Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop
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Author: Hwang Bo-reum
The book in a sentence: After her marriage and high-flying career fall apart, Yeongju, a woman in her thirties in Korea, follows her dream of starting a bookshop, where she rediscovers herself and the comforts of friendship.
My review in a sentence: This cozy and gently uplifting read is for anyone who loves books, finds peace in slice-of-life stories where nothing much happens, and wants to ponder what living a good life really means.
Review of Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop
In the author’s note, Hwang Bo-reum shares howWelcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop came to be:
“I wanted to write a novel evoking the mood of Kamome Diner and Little Forest. A space we can escape to, a refuge from the intensity of daily life where we can’t even pause to take a breather. A space to shelter us from the harsh cricisms whipping us to do more, to go faster. A day without something siphoning our energy, a day to replenish what’s lost.”
In my eyes, she’s succeeded –Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop is brimming with loveliness, set in a wonderfully restful bookshop, and interwoven with gentle philosophies on living a good life.
That said, this is a book to read for the atmosphere rather than the plot; not much happens, the characters aren’t even particularly well-developed, and you’re unlikely to fall in love with the protagonist, or anyone else really.
But if you adore the coziness of the cover – as well as books about books and Korean fiction in translation – I think you’ll enjoy this debut novel too. From October 2023, the book is available in English with a translation by Shanna Tan.
“Books are not meant to remain in your mind, but in your heart. Maybe they exist in your mind too, but as something more than memories. At a crossroads in life, a forgotten sentence or a story from years ago can come back to offer an invisible hand and guide you to a decision. Personally, I feel like the books I’ve read led me to make the choices I’ve made in life. While I may not remember all the details, the stories continue to exert a quiet influence on me.”Hwang Bo-reum, Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop
As with Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley, this recommendation is for anyone who loves books and has ever felt lost in life, or wondered where they’re going next. But it’s also a warm hug and quiet reassurance that you’re doing okay and are enough, just as you are. That you’re not alone in your insecurities. And that there are other options than the rat race when it comes to making a living.
As protagonist Yeongju builds the Hyunam-dong Bookshop from a place where she sits and cries to a thriving refuge for customers to connect and learn how to truly live, her story is one of companionship, quiet slice-of-life routines, and the healing power of books.
Some aspects of the translation are fairly clunky (and it’s not without mistakes or some shoddy editing), but you can read this as part of the book’s quirky charm. It’s not a book about perfection, after all, but a gorgeously humble, wholesome, and life-affirming book about books, vulnerability, and being the person you want to be.
This is a book best read indoors, with cozy music playing, and a hot drink by your side. Chapter 3 is titled “What’s the Coffee of The Day?”, and the bookshop’s barista and his experiments to create the perfect brew are a lovely element of the book. However, I chose to accompany the book with matcha at my local teahouse – a quiet little place on a side street with just a few tables and a glorious selection of green tea.
If you’ve ever dreamed of opening a bookshop, escape into this glimpse of life as a bookseller in Korea for a few days and see how you come out on the other side. It’s a book about the big and little things in life, and while not perfect, it’s a quietly powerful book that will get you thinking, prompt questions, and stay with you after reading.
“Every one of us is like an island; alone and lonely. It’s not a bad thing. Solitude sets us free, just as loneliness brings depth to our lives. In the novels I like, the characters are like isolated islands. In the novels I love, the characters used to be like isolated islands, until their fates gradually intertwined; the kind of stories where you whisper, ‘You were here?’ and a voice answers, ‘Yes, always.'”
For similar books to Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop, you might also like:
- What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama
- Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley (here’s my review)