Some books just find you at the right time, right when you need them. That is how I feel about Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop. This truly is a comforting and heartwarming read about self-acceptance and prioritising your well-being in the face of burn out. I fell in love with these characters, watching them unfold I wanted to root for their successes, I wanted to cry in their moments of pain, and I laughed alongside new friends.
“Running an independent bookshop was like roaming a stretch of land without roads. There was no tried-and-tested business model.” p. 151
There was only one thing on her mind.
‘I must start a bookshop.’
Yeongju did everything she was supposed to, go to university, marry a decent man, get a respectable job. Then it all fell apart. Burned out, Yeongju abandons her old life, quits her high-flying career, and follows her dream. She opens a bookshop.
In a quaint neighbourhood in Seoul, surrounded by books, Yeongju and her customers take refuge. From the lonely barista to the unhappily married coffee roaster, and the writer who sees something special in Yeongju – they all have disappointments in their past. The Hyunam-dong Bookshop becomes the place where they all learn how to truly live.
A heart-warming story about finding comfort and acceptance in your life – and the healing power of books.
@wilddinosaurr This book is a warm hug to my soul. A cosy evening of taylor swift and Welcome to the Hyunam-dong Bookshop by lamplight 💕 #cozyathome #cozynights #booktok #cozybooktok #taylorswift #welcometohyunamdongbookstore #welcometothehyunamdongbookshop ♬ pluto projector – al
I think the power in Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop lies in the conversations. The coming together of characters from different walks of life all coming to the same conclusion, that life if yours to live and determine the path forward. All of them deal with very human, very common and relatable life problems. The topic of burn out and the pressure of expectations on oneself is the crux of the books exploration. Its gentle plot meanders around these themes, examining the different internal battles and decisions each character comes to in their pursuit of positive change.
Yeongju is a charming young woman, but is recently divorced and emotionally fragile as she pursues her dream of running a bookshops. She is passionate about books, and her love for the written word. Alongside her own reviews tucked into the front of the books on shelves, she slowly attracts a cast of characters into her new life. Each of them are troubled and dealing with their own personal issues, some running from their pasts, and their interactions with one another leads to a slow and gradual healing of self.
The book is very episodic in structure. There are time skips in parts, which in turn reveal the growth and changes in the bookshop as Yeongju works hard to make it sustainable. If you’re looking for something with a driving plot and lots of high stakes, this isn’t that book. But if what you’re looking for is insight into the world of bookselling and Korean culture, then perhaps this is the book for you. As I said, I think this book found me right when I need it, as I am going through a a lot of personal changes myself at the moment, so I found myself relating heavily to various characters feelings about the decisions they have made in how they live their lives.
Ultimately this debut is novel that highlights the power of books, community and connection in a very sweet, character-driven story. I can completely understand why Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop became a massive bestseller in Korea as it is beautifully told, like a comforting hug to a soul that needs a little love and tender care. With writing that is quirky and inviting this will be a book I come back to again and again for a little bit of joy and comfort.
There are so many wonderful quotes in this book, I was tabbing and highlighting so many pages, the first time I’ve ever done so with a fiction novel. So here is a collection of my favourite ones from the book:
“She learnt to listen to her body, her feelings, and be in happy places. She would ask herself these questions: does this place make me feel positive? Can I be truly whole and uncompromisingly myself? Do I love and treasure myself here? For Yeongju, the bookshop checked all the boxes.” p. 2
“His simple life – yoga, work, movies, sleep – was starting to feel like a well-put-together routine. Perhaps life was enough as it was.” P. 50
“He thought coffee brewing was, in some ways, similar to reading: anyone can do it, and the more time you spend on it, the deeper you want to dig.” p. 96
“Dissonance before moments of harmony makes the harmony sound beautiful. Just as harmony and dissonance exist side by side in music, life is the same. Because harmony is preceded by dissonance, that’s why we think life is beautiful.” p. 104
“When you have thoughts, just hold onto them, see where they take you, and as time passes, you’ll find out if you were right. Never decide right at the start if something is right or wrong.” p. 133
“The problem is that our society is too obsessed with work, and working takes away too many things from us. It’s like we surface from the depths of work to get a breather, only to feel thoroughly spent.” p. 139
“What was it about Yeongju that had disrupted the balance in his life? He hadn’t felt this way for a long time – a zing through his chest whenever he thought of her.” p. 161
“Yes, I wanted to say happiness is never beyond reach. It’s not in the distant past, nor on the horizon of the future. It’s right in front of me. Like that day’s beer, and today’s quince tea.” P. 187
“Be who you are right now, and you’ll be fine.” p. 221
- Found Family
- Episodic storytelling
- Slice of life
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary Translated Fiction (Korean)