The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, translated by Janet Hong [in Booklist]
Making her American debut in translation, Korean writer Han presents a spare novel in two distinct parts seemingly set 15 years apart.
Part 1 focuses on two children among 35 fifth-grade students as a new year begins in March 1998 (Korean schools restart in spring). Mia is the “lucky” child, her life blessed with overabundance, even including two fathers ready to buy her attention with expensive gifts. In sharp contrast, “the Child” lacks even a name, silently suffering unspeakable abuse while channeling her torture in disquieting, harrowing ways. Part 2 unexpectedly shifts to first-person narration, in which “I,” who is revealed to be both the teacher and the author, awakes from a dream to confront “you,” the still-nameless Child, who triggers more questions than answers.
Linearity dissolves, memory is suspect, storytelling becomes unstable, and truth and lies become interchangeable. In Han’s innovative, intriguing work of metafiction – her fantastical wordplay impressively rendered by translator Janet Hong – “The words become severed from each other,” leaving readers to ponder, decipher, admire, and applaud.
Published: 2013 (South Korea), 2017 (United States)