A devious little experiment, The Impossible Fairy Tale is a story that lets the fourth wall shatter so the author Han Yujoo can converse with her characters and contemplate the suffering she has helped inflict through the cruelty of her narrative. Her meditation delves deep into abuse, beauty, and language in ways that produce strange and meaningful echoes long after the narrative itself has faded. Recommended By Cosima C., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A chilling, wildly original novel from a major new voice from South Korea.
The Impossible Fairy Tale is the story of two unexceptional grade-school girls. Mia is "lucky" — she is spoiled by her mother and, as she explains, her two fathers. She gloats over her exotic imported colored pencils and won’t be denied a coveted sweater. Then there is the Child who, by contrast, is neither lucky nor unlucky. She makes so little impression that she seems not even to merit a name.
At school, their fellow students, whether lucky or luckless or unlucky, seem consumed by an almost murderous rage. Adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by cruelty and soul-crushing hierarchies. Then, one day, the Child sneaks into the classroom after hours and adds ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks. This sinister but initially inconsequential act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence.
But that is not the end of this eerie, unpredictable novel. A teacher, who is also this book’s author, wakes from an intense dream. When she arrives at her next class, she recognizes a student: the Child, who knows about the events of the novel’s first half, which took place years before. The Impossible Fairy Tale is a fresh and terrifying exploration of the ethics of art making and of the stinging consequences of neglect.
"The Impossible Fairy Tale is extraordinary. Disturbing and visceral in its depiction of the savagery of childhood, yet uplifting in its reinvention of literary form. A novel of hypnotic language, page-turning suspense and mind-bending metafictional twists, The Impossible Fairy Tale is the most eerie and fearlessly experimental work I have encountered in recent years." Susan Barker, author of The Incarnations
"With The Impossible Fairy Tale, Han Yujoo has crafted a novel where the deepest recesses of the subconscious are conflated with childhood memories, futuristic anime, and folk tales to express the particular unreality of a writer’s life.... A fine book." Zyzzyva
"This transfixing experimental novel questions where sleep ends and books begin, a concept borrowed from the works of French writer Maurice Blanchot, and the atmosphere of nightmarish dread and penetrating weirdness recalls a David Lynch film." Publishers Weekly
"Grappling with topics such as childhood, bullying, and what it means to tell a story, The Impossible Fairy Tale is an impressively unique and challenging read that is well worth your while." BuzzFeed
"A powerful and primal work, a deliberately constructed story that incorporates irrationality, fear and change, and holds the reader's attention throughout." Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Han Yujoo... casts an uncanny cloak of dreams over a South Korean childhood.... Janet Hong, the translator, proves adept with both the skin-prickling horror of the novel’s first half, and the second half’s dark night of the literary soul." The Economist
"This début novel sketches the barbaric politics of elementary school with terrifying clarity.... The narrative turn is both exuberantly postmodern and in dead earnest." The New Yorker
About the Author
Han Yujoo was born in Seoul in 1982 and is the author of four short story collections. She is an active member of an experimental group called Rue and also runs Oulipopress, an independent publisher. The Impossible Fairy Tale is her first book to appear in English.
Janet Hong is an award-winning translator and writer. She is the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Fund award, numerous grants from the Daesan Foundation, LTI Korea, and English PEN, as well as fellowships from the International Communication Foundation (ICF). Born in Incheon, South Korea, she lives in Vancouver, Canada.