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When the Job Ain’t Enough: A Very Ordinary Romance by Baek Young Ok

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byJung Yeo-ul
A Very Ordinary Romance
2011
288pp.

When Koreans first meet, one of the things that they do most often is exchange business cards. Based on the person’s profession, position, and place of residence one can instantly learn about the other person. Koreans believe that according to the information on a business card, one’s identity is revealed. But is that truly the case? Can one’s identity be expressed solely through a business card or a resume? In A Very Ordinary Romance Baek Young Ok explores the scarred interiority and the tragic sense of identity that is concealed in a business card.

Characters that have modern jobs make frequent appearances in this collection of short stories. For example, characters who appear include an employee who is in charge of receipts, the proprietor of a barbecue rib restaurant, a designer of wedding invitation cards, a CEO of a corporation, the head of a publishing company, and a book editor of an Internet bookstore. They all have respectable jobs; however, they gradually lose their sense of identity when they exploit their jobs in order to express their desires. The author paints the sad portrait of people who, instead of using their talents to express themselves, are becoming enslaved by the robotic system of capitalism and modern professionalization.

“A Very Ordinary Romance” is about a woman who works for a magazine as an administrative assistant who believes that it is possible to know all about a particular individual through what kind of receipts that person has. “A Six Million Won Man” is about a successful CEO of a corporation who is the envy of everyone, but finds out that there is nothing he can do by himself once he goes bankrupt. “The Wedding Invitation Cards Murder Case” is about a wedding invitation card designer who is accused of being a serial murderer when he attends too many weddings. “The Family Drama” is about the owner of a restaurant who finds out she has breast cancer, just at the juncture when she leaves her home in pursuit of the true meaning in life. “Kang Myo-Hee’s Beauty Salon” is about a woman who dreamt of being a writer herself but ends up working as an editor for other writers instead. All these characters have tried their best for a long time to do a good job in their respective professions, but they fail to live the lives they truly wanted to live. The author invites readers to the barren landscape where people have formulated their identity via a business card.