Kirkus Reviews QR Code
LOVE IN THE BIG CITY by Sang Young Park Kirkus Star


by Sang Young Park ; translated by Anton Hur

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-8021-5878-9
Publisher: Grove

A novel, told through relationships, about navigating life as a young gay man in Korea.

In a series of long vignettes, the narrator, an unnamed man referred to occasionally as “Mr. Young” and “Mr. Park,” recounts his relationships: with other men; with his ailing, acidic, evangelical Christian mother; with his best friend. He meets Jaehee when she catches him kissing a man in a hotel parking lot. The two of them, both 20 years old and French majors in college, quickly become confidants, sleeping around with men and swapping stories about their escapades; eventually, they move in together. Now in his 30s, the narrator attends Jaehee’s wedding and feels a pang of loss. In another section, the narrator, now 25, is in the midst of an intense relationship with a man 12 years his senior while juggling caretaking duties for his mother, who is confined to the hospital with uterine cancer. Five years later, after a wounding and sudden breakup, the man gets back in touch with the narrator—raising the possibility that he might finally introduce his mother (whose cancer has returned) to his old flame. The bulk of the book, though, is dedicated to Gyu-ho, the bartender with whom he has a long-term relationship complicated by the narrator’s HIV-positive status. The novel skips freely around in time, lending it a sense of propulsion and instability that feels entirely intentional. It’s anchored, however, by the narrator’s irresistible voice, which alternates between earnest, heartfelt emotion and likable wryness: He names his virus Kylie, after Kylie Minogue, and sees, at a park, “a middle-aged couple so tightly arm in arm that one seemed to have placed the other under arrest.” The prose is dense with fine-grained characterization: Of one boyfriend, the narrator says, “Conversations with him at his house sometimes gave me the feeling that he was reciting lines from a Greek tragedy or an absurdist play, or even an eighties movie.” Despite an ending that drags just a bit, this book will sweep readers up in its sheer longing.

An addictive, profound novel.