Read an Excerpt From Miye Lee’s The Dallergut Dream Department Store

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from The Dallergut Dream Department Store, a cozy fantasy written by Miye Lee and translated from the Korean by Sandy Joosun Lee—publishing with Hanover Square Press on July 9th.

In a mysterious town hidden in our collective subconscious there’s a department store that sells dreams. Day and night, visitors both human and animal shuffle in to purchase their latest adventure. Each floor specializes in a specific type of dream: childhood memories, food dreams, ice skating, dreams of stardom. Flying dreams are almost always sold out. Some seek dreams of loved ones who have died.

For Penny, an enthusiastic new hire, working at Dallergut is the opportunity of a lifetime. As she uncovers the workings of this whimsical world, she bonds with a cast of unforgettable characters, including Dallergut, the flamboyant and wise owner, Babynap Rockabye, a famous dream designer, Maxim, a nightmare producer, and the many customers who dream to heal, dream to grow, and dream to flourish.


The Third Disciple’s Historic Store

Penny is sitting on the second floor of her favorite café. She’s wearing a comfortable shirt. Her bobbed hair is soggy. This morning, she received word from the Dal­lergut Dream Department Store that her application has passed the screening, and her interview is next week. She went straight to a corner bookstore to buy job interview books, and now she is in full prep mode.

But something has been bothering her for a while. A guy drinking tea at the next table has been tapping his feet, showing off his colorful fuzzy socks with every bounce, distracting her like crazy.

He is in a thick dressing gown, sipping his tea with closed eyes. As he blows on his tea, its fresh forest scent carries over to her table. He must be having a special herbal tea good for fatigue.

“Hmm, very nice…warm…delicious… Should I get a refill?” The guy mutters under his breath as though he’s sleep-talking, then goes back to tapping his feet and smacking his lips.

Penny turns her seat to block his bouncing socks from view. Others in the café are wearing pajamas.

For centuries, Penny’s hometown has been famous for its sleep products. Now it has evolved into a metropolis with a surging population. The locals, including Penny, who grew up here, are used to seeing outsiders roaming around in sleepwear.

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The Dallergut Dream Department Store
The Dallergut Dream Department Store

The Dallergut Dream Department Store

Miye Lee

Penny sips on her now-cold coffee. The bitter caffeine seems to mute the background noise and cool the air around her. The extra charge for two Calm Syrup pumps is worth it. She pulls out her job prep questions and re­reads the last one, which she has been struggling with.

Q. Which dream and dreammaker won the Grand Prix at the 1999 Dream of the Year Awards by a unani­mous vote?

a. “Crossing the Pacific Ocean as a Killer Whale” by Kick Slumber
b. “Living as My Parents for a Week” by Yasnoozz Otra
c. “Floating in Space Gazing Down on Earth” by Wawa Sleepland
d. “Teatime with a Historical Figure” by Doje
e. “An Infertile Couple’s Dream Foretelling the Birth of Triplets” by Babynap Rockabye

Penny chews on her pen cap. The question is tricky: 1999 was a long time ago. Young dream directors like Kick Slumber or Wawa Sleepland might not be correct. She strikes out those two choices with her pen. When did Yasnoozz Otra’s “Living as My Parents for a Week” come out? If Penny’s memory serves, it was fairly recent. Otra’s dreams usually receive heavy prerelease promotions, and a catchphrase from their ads is still vivid in her memory. “Still bothering to scold your kids? Make them live like you for a week in a dream, and everything is solved!”

Penny wavers between the two remaining options and finally goes with “e.,” Babynap Rockabye’s “An Infer­tile Couple’s Dream Foretelling the Birth of Triplets.” She reaches to take another sip of coffee when, out of nowhere, a furry paw slaps down on her question sheet, catching her so off guard that she nearly knocks over the mug.

“No, the answer is a,” says the owner of the big paw without an introduction. “Kick Slumber debuted in 1999. He won the Grand Prix in his first year. I saved for six months straight to buy that dream. It was the most vivid dream I’d had in my entire life! The feeling of my fins crossing the ocean and the view under the waves. It was so real that when I woke up, I was devastated to re­member that I wasn’t a killer whale! He’s a genius. You know how old he was then? Just thirteen!” The owner of the paw seems to burst with pride as if he were talk­ing about his own accomplishment.

“Oh, it’s you, Assam. You scared me.” Penny pushes the mug out of harm’s way. “How did you know I was here?”

“I saw you coming out of the bookstore with a bunch of books. I knew you’d come here. You never study at home.” Assam glances at the pile of books on Penny’s table. “Prepping for the job interview?”

“And how did you know that? I just heard from them this morning.”

“Nothing in this area goes unnoticed by us Noctilucas.”

Assam’s job, like the other Noctilucas working on this street, is to make sure sleeping customers don’t go around taking off their pajamas. They chase after any naked patrons with stacks of dressing gowns that hang from their oversize claws. That feature, combined with their warm, furry bodies, makes a good fit for the job. The irony is that they don’t wear anything themselves, but on second thought, Penny thinks the naked custom­ers would rather be chased by equally naked furry crea­tures than by well-dressed humans.

“You don’t mind me sitting here, do you? My feet hurt from bustling around all day.” Assam plops down next to Penny before she can answer. His fluffy tail sticks out through a hole in the back of the chair, wagging.

“This is hard.” Penny looks at the question again. “How old are you if you know all this, Assam?”

“That’s a rude question to ask a Noctiluca,” Assam says primly. “I once studied hard to get into those stores too, but I quit. I thought this job suited me better.” He slings a stack of gowns over his shoulder. “Anyhow, I can’t be­lieve this is really happening. Clumsy Penny, getting an interview at the Dallergut Dream Department Store!”

“I guess my good karma is finally catching up to me!” It’s a miracle, Penny thinks, that she even passed the screening.

Everyone wants to work at the Dallergut Dream De­partment Store. The high pay, the glamorous architecture, the chance to work at a city landmark, the perks of free dreams doled out on special occasions. It’s a sought-after job. Plus the locals are familiar with the long pedigree of the Dallergut family. In fact, the family is the origin of the city. The prospect of working with Mr. Daller­gut makes Penny’s heart so full that she thinks her whole body might swell up like a balloon.

“I really hope I can get in,” Penny says, clasping her hands together as if in prayer.

“And you’re studying just these materials?” Assam holds up one of the prep books and skims through it before putting it back on the table.

“Thought I should memorize whatever I can. You never know what they’ll ask. I could have to name the Legendary Big Five, or the highest-selling dream of the decade, or what time of day is popular among what cus­tomer demographic—who knows? Apparently the shift I applied for has a lot of West Australian and Asian cus­tomers. I even memorized all the time zones and date­lines. Fun fact, do you know why our city has a constant influx of customers twenty-four seven?”

Penny is eager to launch in, but Assam is equally eager to avoid her lecture, vigorously shaking his head. “Dal­lergut would never ask such a boring question. Plus any random middle schooler would know the answer.”

When Penny turns glum, Assam holds out his paw to pat her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, friend. I’ve heard a lot about Dallergut after a decade of working here. And I hear he loves to ask open-ended questions about dreams, so I don’t think his prompts will have a clear answer. Speaking of which, I actually came here to give you this.” He drops the heap of dressing gowns from his shoulder and starts rummaging through them.

From the mountain of gowns, he produces a small bun­dle containing dozens of fuzzy socks.

“Wait, no, these are for the customers who have cold feet… Ah, yes, there it is!” Assam finds a small booklet among the socks. It has a hard, pale blue cover, and the elegant gold titling reads The Time God and the Three Disciples.

“I haven’t seen that book in ages!” Penny recognizes the title at once. Everyone who grew up in her home­town had to read it.

“Dallergut could ask about this story, you know. If you haven’t read it since you were little, you should read it again—carefully, this time.” Assam pulls his seat closer, his face right next to Penny’s. “And just between us, I hear Dallergut gave this book to all his employees at the Dream Department Store.”

“For real?” Penny asks, clutching the book from Assam.

“Of course! That proves how important he thinks this boo—” Assam stops abruptly as his eyes move from Penny to the view outside the window. “Oh goodness! I should get back. I think I just saw a person roaming around in underwear.” His chestnut nose twitches. He rushes to pick up the pile of gowns while Penny helps to put the fuzzy socks back in the bundle.

“Good luck, Penny. Let me know how the interview goes.” Assam stands up, his eyes still preoccupied with the view outside. “At least he is wearing something,” he mumbles.

“Thanks, Assam,” Penny says.

Assam’s tail circles clockwise as if to say, “You’re wel­come,” and off he goes downstairs.

Penny inspects the book from Assam. He does have a point. The Time God and the Three Disciples explains the origin of this shopping street, the birth of the city, and most of all, the genesis of the Dallergut Dream Depart­ment Store. If Dallergut values history, there is a good chance that the answers to his interview questions will be in this book. Penny tucks the sheets of practice ques­tions inside her backpack. She finishes her coffee in one gulp, straightens her back, then flips open the book.


Penny closes the book, odd sensations stirring inside her. The story had seemed elusive and far-fetched when she first read it in childhood. A fairy tale. But the proof of its veracity solidified her understanding. The story is built into the fabric of the city, a part of the circle of life. The very fact that we dream every night is living proof. So is that fact that the Third Disciple went on to found the Dream Department Store, which passed through his descendants down to Dallergut.

Suddenly, Dallergut seems like a mythical figure to Penny. The thought of having a conversation with him one-on-one leaves her nervously excited. She shudders. I guess I’m done studying for today, she thinks.

Penny returns home, and for the rest of the day, until she falls asleep, she doesn’t put down the book from Assam. She reads and rereads it over several days. She reads it so many times that she has memorized the entire story.

On the day of the interview, Penny arrives at the de­partment store early, looking for Dallergut’s office in the lobby on the first floor. People wear stretched T-shirts and loose shorts as pajamas, or dressing gowns rented by the Noctilucas. They are all looking at different dream products in the display corner. Next to the “Best New Products” stand, a customer in pajama bottoms covered with stars is holding a dream box. “Oh, the new dream by Kick Slumber is here… ‘Becoming a Giant Tortoise in the Galapagos.’ Let’s see. These snobby critics even rated it four-point-nine out of five? That’s rare. What’s the description? ‘A spectacular abyss surrounding its shell’? Their blurbs are confusing and useless as usual.” Penny has ten minutes to get to Dallergut’s office, but none of the spaces here look fancy enough to be his.

Penny intends to ask a middle-aged employee at the front desk, but she’s on the phone and seems too busy. Same with the employees who hurry past in linen waist aprons, barely noticing Penny.

“Mom! I flunked it!” yells a passerby on the phone, bumping into Penny. “He asked the craziest questions ever. I’d analyzed the last five years of dream trends, but he didn’t ask anything about that!”

She must have had an interview with Dallergut! Desperately, Penny tries to silently mouth to her Where. Is. The. Office?

The woman bluntly points up the stairs before rushing through the crowd. A wooden staircase leads to the next floor. Looking closer, Penny spots a half-open wooden door with a dangling sign that reads Interview Room. The door’s peeling paint and the rough handwriting on the sign make it look like the entrance to an old-school classroom.

In front of the door, Penny takes a moment to breathe and calm herself. Then, still unsure if this is Dallergut’s office, she knocks.

“Yes, do come in.” A booming voice rings from the inside. The same voice Penny has often heard in TV interviews or radio broadcasts. There is no doubt that Dallergut is inside the room.

“Excuse me.”

The office is smaller than she expected. Dallergut is struggling with an old printer behind a long desk. “Wel­come. Do you mind giving me a second? I have issues every time I print with this thing.”

He is wearing a clean shirt, and looks taller and skin­nier than he does on TV or in magazines. His disheveled, wavy hair shows streaks of gray. Dallergut forcibly pulls out what looks like Penny’s résumé from the printer. Having been jammed somewhere inside the machine, the paper is crumpled and ripped, but he seems satis­fied. “Finally.”

Penny approaches and Dallergut offers his wrinkled, skinny hand. Penny, feeling nervous, wipes her hands on her shirt before shaking his. “Hello, Mr. Dallergut, I’m Penny.”

“Nice to meet you, Penny. I was looking forward to meeting you.” Dallergut looks regal. His dark brown eyes exude youthful twinkles, more like the eyes of a boy. Penny worries she’s staring and looks away at the boxes strewn all over the office, which looks more like a shabby storeroom. All dream products. Some are damp from long days spent here, and some seem new with their wrapping still shiny. Dallergut pulls a steel chair closer, drawing Penny’s attention back to him.

“Please have a seat.” He points to a nearby chair. “Make yourself comfortable. These are my favorite cookies. Here, have some.” Dallergut hands Penny a savory-looking nutty cookie.

“Thank you,” Penny says, and as she takes a bite, the air turns cooler, and her shoulders relax. Strangely, the mysterious office becomes more familiar. The effect is similar to the Calm Syrup she adds to her coffee, only better. There must be something special in this cookie.

“I remember your name very clearly,” Dallergut says. “Your application was impressive. I was struck by what you wrote. ‘As much as you love them, dreams are just dreams.’”

“I’m sorry? Oh, that… That was…” She now remem­bers sprinkling the phrase into her otherwise bland ap­plication, hoping it might pique Dallergut’s interest. Did he just want to check who this daring kid was?

Penny gauges Dallergut’s expression. He seems genu­inely interested in her.

“It is great to hear that I made an impression, sir,” Penny carefully responds.

“Shall we get down to business, then?” Dallergut looks to the ceiling, gathering his thoughts.

From The Dallergut Dream Department Store by Miye Lee. Translated by Sandy Joosun Lee. Published by Hanover Square Press, an imprint of HarperCollins (2024). Copyright 2020 Miye Lee.

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