Book Review: “Love in the Big City” by Sang Young Park


By Sang Young Park
Translated by Anton Hur

Here’s my favorite moment from that romance novel: As he lay in bed next to Gyu-ho, the great love of his life, the narrator, Young – a cynical writer who would never use the phrase “the great love of his life” – asks his partner why he continued their sexual relationship after finding out about Young’s HIV infection (whom he playfully nicknames Kylie, as in Minogue).

“Because, whatever it was or not, you were you,” Gyu-ho replies.

Young is touched: “I liked what he said so much that I kept savoring it in a low voice,” he thinks.

I, too, continued to savor the words of author Sang Young Park in my beard. Whatever or not: one of those crucial moments in a novel which gives the reader the opportunity to expire. “Love in the Big City”, already a bestseller in Korea and Park’s first novel to be translated into English, is intoxicating. Through four parts that follow Young from college through postgraduate life in Seoul to booming literary success, the narrator – drinker, tough, and tough – recounts the loves that have defined his life so far. Among them: Jaehee, an enchanting chain-smoker roommate, who ends up moving to get married; Young’s stubborn but increasingly melancholy mother with cancer; a self-loathing ex-activist whom he calls Hyung (in Korean for “older brother”); and Gyu-ho, whose presence in Young’s arms and his memory sustains the heartbreaking and fulfilling second half of the novel, which follows the protagonist into his thirties.

Throughout Young is mired in a painful self-analysis that is exacerbated by his gay identity. “Too much self-awareness was a disease in itself,” he says. A symptom? Her perception of her own mediocrity, describing herself as “neither particularly attractive nor a completely lost cause, just enough not to embarrass any partner”. But for the reader, Young is extremely entertaining, an international pop music connoisseur who spends his evenings in Seoul dating strangers and drinking to excess wherever he can find free tequila. He is also as temperamental as they come. On one page he calls love “a brief moment that you cannot escape until after it has turned into the most hideous thing imaginable”, but later becomes poetic when caught in its bondage. : “Sometimes its very existence for me is the existence of love itself.” Watching Young come in and out of such love, always finding something precious, even life-changing, to which it is. hanging, is one of the book’s most notable pleasures.

In Park’s 2019 short story, “Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta,” reveals its narrator: “I’ve watched every gay movie that opened in Korea because of my natural homosexual duty. . The rarity of the genre can be both a grievance and a gift. While simple stories still dominate the space on the shelves and most spaces beyond, queer readers are conditioned to hunt. How grateful we should be to find ourselves in a perpetual state of exploration, to be hungry for all the stories of people who remind us. In Park’s hands, Young is loud and obnoxious, insufferable and magnetic, messy and wise. The prose, translated by Anton Hur, reads like an iPhone screen, vibrant and addictive. What a joy to see such a deep exploration of contemporary queer life – its traumas and ecstasies pulsing in harmony. It’s a shimmering addition to the recent genre of fiction chronicling the millennial queer malaise.

Park once said in an interview that “love for me has always been the biggest problem.” By exploring this problem through a young man’s serious and evolving relationships with his family, friends and partners, Park has proven that there is no solution. Whatever it is or not, “Love in the Big City” is dazzling.


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