Table for One


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Pub Date Apr 09 2024 | Archive Date Jul 17 2024

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An office worker who has no one to eat lunch with enrolls in a course that builds confidence about eating alone. A man with a pathological fear of bedbugs offers up his body to save his building from infestation. A time capsule in Seoul is dug up hundreds of years before it was intended to be unearthed. A vending machine repairman finds himself trapped in a shrinking motel during a never-ending snowstorm.

In these and other indelible short stories, contemporary South Korean author Yun Ko-eun conjures up slightly off-kilter worlds tucked away in the corners of everyday life. Her fiction is bursting with images that toe the line between realism and the fantastic. Throughout Table for One, comedy and an element of the surreal are interwoven with the hopelessness and loneliness that pervades the protagonists’ decidedly mundane lives. Yun’s stories focus on solitary city dwellers, and her eccentric, often dreamlike humor highlights their sense of isolation. Mixing quirky and melancholy commentary on densely packed urban life, she calls attention to the toll of rapid industrialization and the displacement of traditional culture. Acquainting the English-speaking audience with one of South Korea’s breakout young writers, Table for One presents a parade of misfortunes that speak to all readers in their unconventional universality.

About the Author:

Yun Ko-eun is the award-winning author of five novels and four short story collections. Born in 1980, she lives in Seoul.

Lizzie Buehler is the translator of The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun and Korean Teachers by Seo Su-jin. She holds an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa and has studied comparative literature at Princeton and Harvard.

An office worker who has no one to eat lunch with enrolls in a course that builds confidence about eating alone. A man with a pathological fear of bedbugs offers up his body to save his building from...

Advance Praise

"I was introduced to Yun Ko-eun’s utterly distinctive stories through Lizzie Buehler’s passionate, meticulous translations, and I have never forgotten them. Each of these narratives is blunt, unnerving, gripping; Yun’s prose is razor-sharp, as is her portrayal of the alienation of day-to-day life. Table for One is an exciting contribution to contemporary Korean literature in English." —Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Whereabouts

"Reflecting the quirky and dysfunctional interiority of its characters, Table for One provides a unique insight into modern Koreans. Yun has a distinct literary personality that puts her in the company of major contemporary Korean women writers like Pyun Hye-young, Jo Kyung-ran, Han Kang, and Han Yujoo." —Heinz Insu Fenkl, author of Memories of My Ghost Brother

"Table for One showcases Yun Ko-eun's literary prowess and her ability to illuminate the subtle beauty found in the ordinary moments of our lives. These stories are intricately crafted, psychologically complex, and deeply moving. This a remarkable collection and one that I will be returning to for many years to come." Andrew Porter, author of The Disappeared

"I was introduced to Yun Ko-eun’s utterly distinctive stories through Lizzie Buehler’s passionate, meticulous translations, and I have never forgotten them. Each of these narratives is blunt...

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ISBN 9780231192033
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Average rating from 55 members

Featured Reviews

I wanted to read this because I really enjoyed The Disaster Tourist by the same author, but I think Table for One was even better. Almost every story was interesting, fun to read, and thought provoking. I think my favorites might be Table for One, Invader Graphic, and Iceland. But honestly I loved the bedbug story, too, I read it a week ago but it is still so fresh in my mind. I am excited for the release day because I want to buy a couple copies as gifts!

I want to write more and gush about this but I also don't want to spoil any of the stories.

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Yun Ko Eun's collection of short stories are simply told yet not so simple to understand. They are usually about everyday things looked at from different angles, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. I found myself comparing her writing to Haruki Murakami for it's clean writing and to Mona Awad for it's surreal imagery. My two favourite stories were the two longest ones, Table for One, a story about a woman taking a class on how to eat in public alone and enjoy it, and Don't Cry, Hongdo, a story about a young girl and her relationship with her mother, her homeroom teacher and sugar.

Yun Ko Eun has a specific writing style, all her stories were told in the same consistent tone. Truth be told, I'm not sure if I fully understood where she was taking me, but I followed along as best as I could.

Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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This is a collection of short stories from Yun Ko-eun. The stories range from quirky to surreal and poke fun at modern Korean society. There are some stories I liked more than others (as typical with short story collections) but overall the book was enjoyable and I'm going to look out for more work by the author. I particularly liked Hyeonmong Park's Hall of Dreams and the titular story.

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One of the best short story collections i've read in a while. Though the subject and even the genre/themes of each story varied, the author has a clear voice which made the collection feel cohesive.
Weird, quirky, surreal, funny, thought-provoking, what more could you want!
Definitely going to be on the look out for other works from this author in the future.

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A solid collection of short stories about urban life. My favourites were the stories with unhinged characters and humour. The translated prose read smoothly.

Table For One 8/10
A subtly comedic story with sad undertones. I liked the concept and the bizarreness.

Sweet Escape 9/10
I usually don't like longer stories, but I couldn't get enough of this one. I loved the humour and the obsessive, paranoid character's voice.

Invader Graphic 5/10
Not for me. I'm not a fan of metafiction in short stories. It's too ambitious for the short form and I always end up disliking either the main story or the meta story. I liked a few paragraphs here and there.

Hyeonmong Park's Hall Of Dreams 8/10
This story would be better told from the POV of the main character instead of from the POV of the main character's employee. There was no need for the story to be filtered through an inactive character who observes the active main character. This story was long for my liking, otherwise I loved it.

Roadkill 4/10
I couldn't get into this one. Too long. I wanted to skim, which almost never happens to me.

Time Capsule 1994 6/10
I was confused at some points but it was engaging. I'm not the biggest fan of dual timeline short stories.

Iceland 10/10
Amazing. I loved the obsessive main character. The humour resonated with me. But I felt like the ending was tame compared to the rest of the story.

Piercing 9.5/10
Apart from the disjointedness this was great. Kinda disturbing though.

Don't Cry, Hongdo 9/10
I had low expectations for this story when I saw how long it was. I don't like longer short stories but this was very good. The concept: so good. The voice: so good. The descriptions: so good. But the story's second half was not as strong as the first.

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A gorgeous set of tales with very interesting ideas, from the girl obsessed with her home room teacher to the man with bedbugs to the woman learning to eat alone. A very good set well translated and very thought provoking. Thanks for the arc and cheers

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Table for One (April 2024) is an upcoming collection of short stories by Yun Ko-eun, the author of The Disaster Tourist. It's translated by Lizzie Buehler, who had also translated her other title.

It has a total of 9 stories, of varied lengths. All of them are quirky, and the line between the fantastical and the realistic is a very thin one. A common element in all stories is a sense of isolation among city folks in the face of urbanisation and shifting lifestyles.

I thoroughly enjoyed all stories but the ones that really stand out are the title story and the last one titled Don't Cry, Hongdo. I've only found one story that seems rather weak but no less fun.

In Table for One, Inyoung is an office worker who enrols in a course on solo dining to learn how to eat alone without feeling embarrassed or awkward. There is an exam at the end of the course where students have to eat alone in ten establishments while being watched by examiners who are disguised as fellow diners or the staff. How many of us feel self-conscious about dining alone? I used to be, but not anymore.

Don't Cry, Hongdo is the longest story in this collection. Told from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, it's about the organic food craze that has taken over the community. There are various snack vendors outside her school gates but the children's mothers are going all-out in declaring war on them. At the same time, Hongdo tries to set her mother up with a substitute teacher from her school, resulting in some comical moments.

A somewhat disturbing story is Sweet Escape, which centres around bedbugs. Yup, you read that right. LOL. The protagonist has lost his job and is planning a trip to Europe with his wife. He gets overly paranoid about the threat of bedbugs. When he returns to Korea after the trip, the bedbug hysteria has already spread in the country. Apparently this story was based on a real-life incident of bedbug outbreaks. Hmm.

This was a review copy from Columbia University Press via #NetGalley

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Oh my, this was a delight to read from start to finish. It’s exactly my kind of humour, I love the quirky characters in each of the uniquely spun short stories. I read it with genuine glee on my face. I am now empowered to dine alone which is a great bonus after reading the initial story. I loved Table for One so much. Iceland was also a favourite of mine and Sweet Escape amused me no end. Hyeongmong Parks Hall of Dreams was also delightful. I just love whimsy reads and I feel light and airy after this short story collection.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to read this. I look forward to reading more from Yun Ko-eun again. Such fun!

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Mostly set in South Korea….
from an author to remember— and applaud!!

People do the most peculiar things— have peculiar circumstances — agonizing, and lugubrious distress —
These short stories (each) brought forth psychological barriers, and social barriers.
They’re unique, quirky, engaging stories showing how flaws are as beautiful as admirable qualities are…..
…..varied characters, fears, loneliness, insecurity, obsessions, geography, time, place, tones, culture, and physical structures….
Yun Ko-eun hits the emotional center with simplicity, intelligence with sweet surprising touches.

Wonderful & enjoyable!

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the stories in this collection are delightful, not only are they wonderfully written but they also give us a glimpse into another culture, another way of thinking and being, with characters who worry about thins that may or may not occur to people from other countries. behind such apparent differences, however, these stories show our deep connection across culture and demonstrate our universal aspirations as well as fears.

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An interesting premise for a book. The themes expressed within are loneliness, community, and how to exist in society when you feel like you are an outsider. While this book is set in South Korea, I think that many of the themes within this work are relevant to the modern human experience. Yun Ko-eun does an excellent job at crafting a story that lingers with you.

Many thanks to Columbia University Press and NetGalley for the ARC of this work.

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This was a great collection of short stories. Each one was very different to the next and the scope of imagination was brilliant. I particularly liked the stories about bed bugs and the organic mums, bedbugs being a recent real-life worldwide scare and organic mums representing (to me) mass censorship of anything fun. Glad I was given the opportunity to read this, the translation was spot on and made for very smooth reading.

Thanks to #Netgalley for this ARC

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Thank you Netgalley for this ARC!

In this collection Yun Ko-Eun creates a series of stories which all had their own whimsy and narrative which just kept me hooked. Reflecting on the stories I enjoyed every single one. I loved how each new short story focused on such mundane topics from new, almost obsessive angles. From a bedbug epidemic in 'Sweet Escape' to the obsession with different countries in 'Iceland' I couldn't get enough.

The way Yun Ko-Eun really incorporated Korean culture and topics into the stories was done so well. The writing was clean, simple and effective. I'll definitely be picking up their other works.

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A great collection of stories. I really enjoyed all of them..looking for books my this author now. Great prose and unique stories.

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Yun Ko-eun's "Table for One" translated by Lizzie Buehler is a thought-provoking short story collection that delves into the complexities of solitude and self-discovery. Ko-eun weaves tales that resonate with the nuances of human experience, exploring the often-overlooked moments of isolation. Each story is a literary gem, offering a glimpse into the lives of characters navigating loneliness, introspection, and the search for connection. The author's prose is both elegant and haunting, capturing the essence of solitude in a way that lingers in the reader's mind. "Table for One" is a captivating exploration of the human condition, skillfully crafted with sensitivity and insight.

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I love these types of stories where it´s unhinged and funny at the same time, a sort of chaotic feeling but making sense at the same time. I think my favorite ones were Iceland and Table for one, but overall it was a solid read and will check it out other works by the same author !!

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Like her novel, "The Disaster Tourist", Yun Ko-eun's stories are captivating Kafkaesque tales. In one story, a woman enrolls in a course to learn how to eat alone in restaurants; in another, a man wears the pajamas of his customers and sells them dreams when they return; a man becomes trapped in a blizzard and is forced to stay in a seemingly empty motel stocked with hundreds of vending machines, where he cannot get in contact with any manager but still somehow receives traffic fines in the mail for his illegally parked car stuck in the snow; after taking an online quiz which tells her she only has a 2.3% match with her home country of Korea but a 42% match with Iceland, a woman joins an online fan group and memorizes every detail of the culture and geography of this Nordic island. Ko-eun's characters are often alienated and lonely—divorced mothers, orphaned children, disaffected workers, unemployed job-seekers, who sublimate their existential angst into petty paranoia: in one story, a man loses his job and, instead of applying for a new one, becomes increasingly worried about a potential invasion of bed-bugs in his apartment complex; in another, a mother rails against junk food in the school, carcinogenic chemicals in her cosmetics, and anyone wearing a hat—a potential kidnapper. The characters are desperate to find some authority who can give them advice and certainty: a woman watches an expert who can order beef stew by herself and even dares to ask for a fan to be turned on; another woman attends the lectures of an expert on Iceland, someone who lived there, and asks her everything (every topic from its glaciers to pizza joints).

Yun Ko-eun's characters are all anxious—worried about hidden dangers and imminent catastrophe—and yet, in each of the stories, their neurotic angst is paradoxically both a product of modern society and a precondition for the community they construct. The woman who has no one to eat with during her lunch-breaks ironically finds purpose and belonging in a school for people nervous about eating alone; the man who worries about bed-bugs ironically gets to know his neighbors better and become more involved in their lives; the woman afraid of the dietary risks of processed food joins an informal parents' association which agitates for organic food. In her comic, surreal style, Yun Ko-eun shows how loneliness and insecurity are a powerful basis for affinity with other lonely, insecure people who can indulge their paranoid fears. The remedy for neurosis isn't stability but dreams and fiction—the man who sells dreams finds that, after spending his whole life ignored, he can "assert his existence by dreaming"; a girl discovers that drawings are more real and powerful when she refuses to draw her school exactly as it really is but rather how she imagines it—a prison surrounded by a cavalcade of eccentric street hawkers and malingerers, a cotton-candy man, a fish man, a flasher.

These stories reminded me of Kikuko Tsumura's "There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job" and Hiroki Oyamada's "The Factory"—in each of Ko-eun's stories, work seems depressingly meaningless and trivial; the world is strange and surreal; and yet the characters find meaning in their re-imagination of the world around them, bonding with likeminded outcasts and finding solidarity in the absurd.

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