Book Review: Welcome to Hyunam-Dong by Hwang Bo Reum

"Welcome to Hyunam-Dong" by Hwang Bo Reum offers a peek into a bustling Seoul neighborhood, where every corner has a story and every resident has a dream. It's a heartwarming tale that captures the spirit of community and the quirks of city life.

”Welcome to Hyunam-Dong Bookshop” presents a heartwarming story of finding identity through the journey of a bookseller. As the bookshop flourishes and thrives, the inhabitants and regulars within it start to understand what it means to be happy.


Despite having a steady job and a loving husband, Yeongju decides to leave her past life behind to open a bookshop in the Hyunam-Dong neighborhood, quaintly naming it after the location. At first glance, the novel appears to tackle the process of owning a bookshop. However, 'Welcome to Hyunam-Dong' provides insight into the lives impacted by the simple association of books and coffee, showing how the simple joys in life can mean much more than we might think.

Why we loved it

Life can pass by in a blur in this rapid, materialistic-driven world of the 21st century, where everything seems to be high stakes. You may often find yourself tired, burned out, and frustrated, but Hwang Bo-Reum might have a solution for you. Hwang's debut novel, 'Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop,' is the perfect feel-good, slice-of-life story that eases you into a relaxed and comfy mood.

The book follows a young Korean woman named Yeongju who finds herself dissatisfied with her life. On a whim, she decides to quit her job, divorce her husband, and open a bookshop named after the place it is situated at: Hyunam-Dong. We follow as we watch Yeongju figure out the core center of her bookshop and the planning it comes to starting an independent bookshop. As customers are drawn to her store, more unique individuals visit or even join her team, each figuring out their own lives and journeys alongside our protagonist.

Welcome to Hyunam-Dong Bookshop's front book cover

For the majority of the story, we follow Yeongju’s journey on how to own a bookshop. Although the customers have the same hobby of reading, each one of them has a unique taste that results in very different needs that Yeongju has to cater to. Every customer's needs and wants are different; some readers like fiction, and some readers prefer non-fiction. She struggles with trying to engage with her customers at first. But she slowly grasps her customer base better and even goes to the length of shunning bestseller books, opting to go for smaller, interesting authors instead. Hwang really makes you feel as if you’re also part of this process of starting your own business. And who doesn’t want to?

Each chapter feels like snippets or episodes of the bookshop. Hwang titles her chapters with fun, quirky questions or statements like 

'What Makes A Good Bookshop?', 'What’s the Coffee of the Day?' or 'Please Recommend Me a Good Book.'

These titles initially relate more to the bookshop itself, often revolving around the management or the lived experiences of the individuals who visit the shop. Slowly, as the reader immerses themselves in the story of the people, the chapter names become increasingly personal: 'I Wanted to Say No,' 'I’ll Be Rooting for You,' and my personal favorite, 'Let’s Like Each Other.' No longer is the bookshop just a place to discover new reads or to take a break in the midst of the rat race; it becomes a space for reflection.

Welcome to Hyunam-Dong Bookshop's front book cover.

The bookshop serves as a place for people to figure out their lives. In the novel, we often meet interesting characters who stumble upon the bookshop to address troubles in their own lives. One character who stands out the most is Minjun, a young postgraduate who follows the conventional academic route to secure a well-paying job, only to find himself jobless, dreamless, and lost. Despite doing everything society has deemed as a path to success, Minjun is unable to find contentment and fulfillment in his life. Thus, as he takes up the role of barista at Hyunam-dong, he uses coffee as a canvas not only to explore recipes and the perfect coffee blend but also to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

Hwang presents a comforting story with very relatable characters who are confused in this path of life, and I’m sure we all are. It is very comforting to see fictional characters go through the same mundane issues that we go through, and all the more makes for an uplifting reading experience.

 While reading the book, I find myself having the same epiphanies that these people go through. In the backdrop of the comfy, cozy bookshop lies a space for everyone to air out their deepest, darkest moments. The conversations brought about in the shop are of tragedy, of relatability, and from the crevices of every human being’s psyche.

What do I want to do with my life? Does money equate to my happiness? What is happiness to me?

Despite the cultural and geographic differences between Singapore and Korea, Hwang manages to bring a humanistic touch to her characters and the message of her story. It explores what it means to be successful and happy in life. Society often deems that having material possessions displays our wealth and fortune, thus equating to success in life. However, Hwang seeks to subvert this idea.

Welcome to Hyunam-Dong Bookshop's front book cover.

Take, for example, Yeongju, who did have a 'successful' life in her past; she had a well-paying, steady job and a husband who loves her dearly. But even then, she was unable to cope with that life and decided to open a bookshop independently, at the expense of her own savings. Yet, this makes her more happy and fulfilled in life than before.

Maybe life is not meant to be planned. Just like the stories laid out in the bookshop, each different lived experience is a snippet for us to navigate our own way around life. Hwang’s feel-good novel about opening a bookstore becomes a story for us to reflect on. The rapidness and competitiveness of society have narrowed our vision of what happiness can be, and sometimes it can be something great, such as achieving your dreams. Or just making coffee for regular ol' people like you and me. Like Yeongju and Minjun, what we think is meant for us may not actually bring us happiness. My favorite quote from the book speaks to this the best: 

“A life surrounded by good people is a successful life. It might not be success as defined by society, but thanks to the people around you, each day is a successful day.' And maybe, this book will help you discover your own path to happiness.”

About the Author

Hwang Bo-Reum, born in Korea, pursued a degree in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer. She has written several essay collections before debuting her first novel, 'Welcome to Hyunam-Dong Bookshop,' which has sold over 150,000 copies in Korea and has been sold in nine territories. The novel won first place in an open contest co-organized by the Korean content-publishing platform 'Brunch.' Originally an e-book, the novel has since been released as a paperback and has been translated by Singaporean translator Shanna Tan.

A photo of Hwang Bo-Reum.
Photo Credit: The Southern Bookseller Review

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