Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park is a contemporary adult fiction novel set in Seoul where we journey with Young, a young Gay man, as he goes through life. Originally written in Korean in 2019, the English translation is by Anton Hur. It is about the emptiness which becomes part of one’s life and searching for love while struggling to survive in the big city.
It is narrated in four parts, with each story corresponding to a distinct phase of the narrator’s life and his relationship with his friends, partners, mother, and lovers.
The story begins with Young as a college student–drinking, having fun and having a lot of bed partners. Titled Jaehee, the first story revolved around his friendship with his female roommate and friend Jaehee, at least until her marriage.
The tone changes in the second story with the arrival of an older partner. A student activist who holds polar political views deeply affects Young. Here we are also introduced to the troubled relationship he has with his ill and deeply religious Catholic mother.
In the third story, Young finds the love of his life, Gyu-Ho, a bartender who moves in with him. Filled with sex, arguments, fights, and light moments, it reveals various aspects of their personalities.
The last part is set in Bangkok, where he is vacationing with an older guy after having broken up with Gyu-Ho. However, his heart is still missing his first love.
I am a big-time K-Drama fan and was hoping to get a similar feel from this novel (blame it on the really cute cover!) However, it was a completely different experience altogether. I came close to abandoning the novel four times but still picked it up every time, hoping that it would be worth the effort. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Young’s life as a Gay man is filled with struggles, confusion, and disease. He has STD, which he creatively calls Kylie! Though he is funny and sarcastic, I could neither empathize with his struggles nor understand the choices he was making. This is not my first LGBT book. I’ve read quite a few where the protagonist is Gay, Lesbian, or Queer. Young didn’t touch my heart the way Kanishka Nurzada in Nemat Sadat’s Carpet Weaver or Fatima from Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor did.
Let me tell you what did not work for me –
- I really struggled with the author’s style of writing. Though it is effective, I had to force myself to read. There are no dialogue tags or quotation marks in the entire book. All dialogues start with an em dash. Most of the time I couldn’t figure out who was speaking!
- Also, the delivery is too crass. I understand the book is about a Gay man and his sexuality. I feel the treatment could have been better. As a reader, I couldn’t appreciate it at all.
- The setting keeps flitting between past and present. This, too, was a struggle to keep up with. There are scenes when Young is with a particular character, and bang! The next scene is off-tangent with some other character is some other place! And then back to the earlier timeline. I know it is a reminiscence, but it was ill-jointed.
- Young’s character portrayal is too typical – a female best friend, alcoholism, sex with random strangers on Tinder or otherwise, a failed first love, middle-class upbringing, and a parent who doesn’t understand him. Nothing refreshing here.
- There is no growth in Young’s character arc. Till the very end, he was doing the same things, living the same life–sex, soju, and poor relationships. Though he is growing older, his character doesn’t seem to mature with age.
I firmly believe every book finds its reader, and Love in the Big City did not work for me. Going by the reviews, I might be in the minority; but it is what it is!
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