An Ordinarily Extraordinary Life: My Sweet Seoul by Jeong Yi Hyun

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.1 Autumn 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
My Sweet Seoul

The life of a 30-something single career woman seems “ordinary” in every sense of the word, yet integrating love and money brings exceptional challenges.

It is easy to say that something is standard or ordinary. But living an ordinary life could be the most difficult task to achieve, since the adjective “ordinary” is just a grand illusion that exists only in our mind. When asked to pick the most ordinary person, one might be deeply baffled. After all, each individual is unique and special. Jeong Yi Hyun stages an entertaining battle against the illusion of the banal by depicting a Korean woman’s ordinary life and work in a rather extraordinary fashion.

Thirty-something Oh Eun-su is a deputy manager at a publishing company who has a seven-year career under her belt. She is an ordinary Korean in every aspect. Nothing in her family background, education, appearance, or even personality can be categorized as other than ordinary. Strangely enough, her everyday life is full of deviation and struggle. The novel chronicles Oh’s ordinary office life and romantic relationships in Seoul, but the way they are described is far from ordinary.

Love, marriage, and dating are three different things in modern life, but Oh and other “ordinary” Korean women want the three things to be integrated into a single, perfect harmony. But what if such integration is just an urban myth or illusion? The novel’s delicate depiction of the character in her 30s is telling because her everyday life is full of frustrations. The chief stumbling blocks to the integration of the three modes of a single woman’s life are none other than money and temptation. A younger man, though charming enough, lacks money; a rich man, however, seriously lacks attractiveness. A young woman’s heart swings rapidly and recklessly in accordance with the intensity of such temptation, creating a potentially lethal emotional cycle. What’s more lethal is that in this world, even romantic love depends heavily, if not entirely, on money.

The sheer dilemma facing young women in the metropolitan city of Seoul makes it tricky to blame them for preferring an expensive Starbucks coffee whose price is almost double that of a cheap lunch. For adult women who cannot imagine their lives without all the conveniences that the metropolis offers. The novel is a kind of second initiation. For readers who are drawn to Oh, who “is 32 years old, doesn’t have anything, no achievement, no man I deeply love, or no man who deeply loves me,” the novel will leave a subtle aftertaste like the caffeine in a Starbucks caramel macchiato. 

Author's Profile

Jeong Yi Hyun has authored four novels, four short story collections, and three essay collections. Her first novel, Sweet City of Mine (2006) was adapted into the TV series My Sweet Seoul. Her novel Foundation of Love: A Couple’s Story (2013) was part of a two-volume series exploring issues of love, marriage, and family, with Alain de Botton writing the second part.