HWONG BO-REUM : WELCOME TO THE HYUNAM-DONG BOOKSHOP

It’s no surprise that this delightful debut novel quickly became a best-seller at home in South Korea. Author Hwang Bo-Reum has crafted a gentle meditation on life and finding one’s place in the world. There’s no real plot or dramatic narrative arc here; the story simply wanders along but we come to realise that each character is on their own journey, no matter how modest that may be.

Set against the high-speed pace of life in big-city Seoul, our key character Yeongju abandons her career to pursue her life-long dream of opening a bookshop. Yeongju had done all the ‘right’ things – she’d worked hard at school, gone to university, married a decent man, and had a proper job. Then it all fell apart and disillusioned with life she opens a small neighbourhood bookshop.

At first, Yeongju doesn’t quite know what to do in the shop or how to make it a success. As time goes on, she gradually gains confidence in choosing and recommending books and making the shop somewhere special. A good book, she thinks, is one that “would take her to places beyond her expectations”. It is this belief in the power of books and reading that infuses every page.

Yeongju soon employs Minjun, a quiet and rather lonely barista with an obsession for making the perfect cup of coffee. Together they create something special at the bookshop and make it a safe space for their customers. Along the way, we learn about the people who come to the shop, and share a slice of their life’s journey. In this way the book is rather reminiscent of the charming Japanese television series Midnight Diner.

Each character who comes into the shop is walking their own path but almost always they are recovering from a set-back or facing a personal insecurity. I know that makes it sound like it might be a dreary read, but it’s absolutely the opposite! It’s warm and charming and life-affirming and an absolute joy for anyone like me who loves books. Yeongju says that quiet breaks in a busy day are “pockets of peace” and that’s exactly what this book offers – it’s a little pocket of peace just waiting for you! Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63973-242-5

Review by Dr Diana Carroll

Featured image : South Korean writer Hwang Bo-Reum