Read The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo 한유주 Janet Hong Online


A chilling, wildly original novel from a major new voice from South KoreaThe 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 color pencils and won’t be denied a coveted sweater. Then there is the Child who, by contrast, is neithA chilling, wildly original novel from a major new voice from South KoreaThe 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 color 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 earlier. Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale is a fresh and terrifying exploration of the ethics of art making and of the stinging consequences of neglect....

Title : The Impossible Fairy Tale
Author :
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ISBN : 9781555977665
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 192 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Impossible Fairy Tale Reviews

  • David Yoon
    2019-04-17 22:29

    It’s been back to back reads with strange meta-narrative, mobius plot threads (I followed this one with Bats of the Republic) The Impossible Fairy Tale is weirdly unsettling and moves ahead with a grim inevitability following the intertwined lives of two 12 year old girls. The language skitters off on strange tangents and plays with words in a way that must have proven a unique challenge to translate. Violence and death constantly linger in the periphery but the tangents pulled me out of the story making me wish for the relentless energy of Samanta Schweblin’s David in Fever Dream, who kept the narrative on its creepy track. The novel then shifts it’s focus halfway through and the book becomes something else entirely. I just couldn’t get invested enough to truly follow along and make the necessary connections. And I was frankly still catching my breath from the ending of the first half. Inventive and challenging, it just wasn’t what I was after.

  • Alice Lippart
    2019-04-17 18:18

    A very strange but interesting book. I liked it but I'm not fully sure how I feel about it. Very odd but worth the read (I think).

  • Sarah
    2019-03-31 01:29

    Really weird, strange book. I have no idea what to think about it yet, but I think I liked it? Asian authors have been killing it with unique narrative voices lately, and this is no exception.

  • Paul Fulcher
    2019-04-01 22:43

    Every time I see you enact the habits I've designed, I feel both an unnameable sense of happiness and unease. Every time you speak in a tone that isn't my own, I am both confused and relieved.한유주 (Han Yujoo) followed the typical path for a Korean novelist, starting with short-story collections and winning a literary award (in her case the 2009 Hankook Ilbo Literary Award) before publishing her debut novel불가능한 동화.It has been translated as The Impossible Fairy Tale by Janet Hong, and published by the excellent new Tilted Axis Press, founded by Deborah Smith, MBI award-winning translator of The Vegetarian. Their mission statementTilted Axis publishes the books that might not otherwise make it into English, for the very reasons that make them exciting to us – artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new.An Impossible Fairy Tale certainly meets those criteria: not always entirely successful it is nevertheless a striking and worthwhile read.The novel has two halves. The third-person narrator in the first tells the story of a class of 12 year-olds, focusing on two girls in particular. The first Mia (미아), a name that, significantly, could literally translate as either stray child or beautiful child: Mia is lucky. One day, she receives a set of 72 German-made watercolour pencils from one of the two men who consider her to be their daughter. Mia has two fathers. One is not yet aware of the other’s existence, or pretends not to know, and the other is aware of the one’s existence, but chooses to turn a blind eye for some unclear reason. When someone learns of a truth that no one knows, all the surrounding relationships will drastically change. Nevertheless, even though they both function as fathers to Mia, only one of the two had given her a set of 72 German-made colour pencils as a gift. Because these colour pencils were manufactured in Germany and were not cheap ones made in China, they satisfied her taste and interest, enabling the father who gave the gift to gain leverage over the other father. Red, fuchsia, crimson, blood red, rose, yellow, orange yellow, citron, tangerine, flesh colour. And light green, emerald, forest green, grass green. With an overwhelming array of colours spread before her eyes, lucky Mia gains the innocent and childish confidence that she will be able to draw every object around her with 72 colours[…]When I grow up, I’m going to buy a fountain pen, says Mia. Do you know you can kill someone with a fountain pen? she asks. I read that in a book somewhere. If you drop the pen down on a person’s head from high up and at the right angle, the sharp tip will pierce right into the head. It’s because of acceleration. I read that from a detective story.But of course, Mia has no desire to kill anyone; in fact, she doesn’t even understand the words “death” or “kill.” She is a lucky child, and she doesn’t possess enough feelings to kill someone, let alone has she had the chance to; she doesn’t yet know that some people can kill a person in the absence of hatred or loathing or malice or anger. She doesn’t yet know that rather than trying to aim the tip of a fountain pen at someone’s forehead from a tall building, it is far more effective to drive the pen’s pointed metal tip into someone’s neck, a fact she would have learned if she read more books. But she was only interested in detective novels, and because there were more things she didn’t know than what she knew, her world was simple; and for that reason, she is lucky. Anyhow, when I grow up, I’m going to buy a fountain pen, she says. I like the way it sounds. Fountain pen.Mia, who more or less has everything, who was always told she could have anything, thinks she could construct her world exactly the way it is with 72 colours, that she could fill in the shadows of already existing objects, each with its own shade, that she could erase even the shadows, that she could perhaps kill a person. The second, is The Child, a rather anonymous figure in the class. Her name is never given (although at one point we get a hint that her first two initials areㅎ ㄷ) and she appears to be the victim of physical abuse from her parents, albeit this happens off stage.She wishes she could be erased. But every time she tries to erase herself, she only grows darker. Every day, she grows darker. Enough for her body to gobble up her shadow. At school, she exists like a shadow. Or she has become a shadow and is absent.This is an unsentimental view of childhood – the children’s favourite game when the teacher leaves the class is to strangle each other, or at least pretend to do so, one child in the class has severe learning difficulties and is bullied and abused by his classmates, and the live chicks sold by vendors outside the school gates usually meet grisly ends. The Child breaks into the classroom after school hours, taking the unusual action of writing additional sentences in each child’s journal to emphasise the darker parts of their diaries. But her actions become increasingly sinister and the tension mounts towards a denouement that the reader has largely expected from the outset, but which still has a strong impact. The second half of the novel takes an abrupt meta-fictional turn. The narration switches to the first-person, from the author herself who discusses the very nature of fiction, her explicit inspiration Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence.I can package a certain story as a dream and tell it that way. I can disguise my childhood, and as I disguise it I can make allusions, and as I reveal details about allusions, I can make them appear fictitious, and in this way, I can deceive you all.And the author finds herself confronted by her own character, as she and The Child debate who was responsible for The Child’s actions:(view spoiler)[The Child killed Mia. From the very beginning, Mia's death was planned - it's there in my notes. I followed that plot and murdered Mia step by step, meticulously, logically. So perhaps the Child was not the one who killed Mia. (And the Child - she will come and find me - will read this journal.)(hide spoiler)]The second half was both more original but less well controlled. David Yoon’s review ( makes a very valid comparison to the more tightly controlled Fever Dream.One of the most distinctive features of The Impossible Fairy Tale is the amount of word play, which in part seems a defensive mechanism used by The Child, and the author:The cold Child is cold. The cold Child sheds cold blood. The cold blood is cold. Only statements that repeat the same words are good. Expressions that betray no meaning. Meaning that keeps coming back. Expressions that carry no other meaning.For the translator, of course, this presented a formidable obstacle. Janet Hong, on her first novel-length translation, does an admirable job of coping, having worked with the author to render as much as possible into English. Indeed this translation of word play is one of the English version’s most striking features. To give some examples:1. From the novel’s frontpiece, which I don’t think is a great one. A fountain pen plays a key role: in Korean the word is 만년필 (10000 year pen). The publisher’s frontpiece tells us In the Korean original, Mia says that it’s called a ten thousand year pen because it will write for ten thousand years: in the English translation, she says it’s called a fountain pen because there is a fountain of ink inside.but that isn’t, as claimed an example of this novel’s ingenious word play but rather Korean vs English etymology.2. An example from the translator’s end note. The English translation contains the sentence:The kitten looks up at the Child with pretty eyes as though it has no idea why the Child has snatched her hand away. Kitty cat, kitty cat. Kit Kat, kat. What does kat mean? Or kit? Tool kit. Tools hurt. Hammer, screwdriver, wrench. The Korean original is a riff on 고양이 (cat) to 고양 (boost/flight/sacrificial lamb) to 야공 (night-assault) to 야구공 (a baseball) to 공구 (tool). Janet Hong observes that preserving the different elements made no sense in English so she started with cat (or kitten) and ended with tools, to preserve the join with the previous and later sentences but otherwise made up her own word association.The resulting English sentence, however, doesn’t really inspire, albeit this may have been true of the original as well.3. A more successful example, also from the translator. The sentences Her dirty running shoes are sprinkled with blood. One sprinkle, two sprinkles, three sprinkles. Hey Sprinkles, she calls out to the kitten. The Korean original had 방울(droplet also small bell) – Janet Hong needed a word that could describe blood, be countable and be a pet name for a kitten; sprinkle was an inspired solution.4. An example of the repetition in the text:Forgotten words and lost words turn to bricks and are trapped inside the mouth. Brick pencil and brick fountain pen fall to the brick ground. Brick words and brick sentences fall to the brick ground. Brick world doesn't collapse. Brick world doesn't expand. Brick you become a brick and the brick hour stops. Brick I open my brick eyes and look at brick you. ...What name should I call you? After I write here, I close my brick eyes and spew out brick breath.The Korean original:잊어버린 말과 잃어버린 말이 벽돌이 되어 벽돌 입안에 갇힌다. 벽돌 연필과 벽돌 만년필이 벽돌 바닥으로 추락한다. 벽돌 단어와 벽돌 문장 들이 벽돌 바닥으로 추락한다. 벽돌 세계가 무너지지 않는다. 벽돌 세계가 팽창하지 않는다. 벽돌 네가 그대로 벽돌이 되어 벽돌 시간이 정지한다. 벽돌 내가 벽돌 눈을 뜨고 벽돌 너를 바라본다. ....나는 너를 어떤 이름으로 불러야 할까. 여기가지 쓰고 난 뒤 나는 벽돌 눈을 감고 벽돌 숨을 내뱉는다.The English is almost a literal translation – Google translate gives a very similar rendition – although the lack of pronouns (brick pencil rather than a/the brick pencil) is natural in Korean but rather artificial in English. The dialogue between the author and character becomes increasingly poignant and brings the novel full circle.There is something I want to ask you, you say with your brick voice breaking.How can I delay my death? How can I write my own death sentence? Your brick mouth spews out brick words. Did my illness begin before the story began? Or after the story began? Your brick lips whisper bricks words. These are questions I hadn't expected. No. That's a lie물어보고 싶은 것이 있어.벽돌 목소리가 갈라진다나는 나의 죽음을 어떻게 중지해야 할까, 혹은, 나의 죽음을 어떻게 선고해야 할까.벽돌 입이 벽돌 말들을 내뱉는다.나의 병은 이야기가 시작하기 전에 발병한 것일까, 혹은, 이야기가 시작되고 나서 나의 병도 시작된 것일까.벽돌 입술이 벼골 말들을 솟삭인다. 내가 예상하지 않았던 말들이다. 아니다. 거짓말이다. 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  • Gumble's Yard
    2019-03-20 21:30

    This book is published by a small UK publisher Tilted Axis who publish “books that might not otherwise make it into English, for the very reasons that make them exciting to us – artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new.” Their name refers to their aim to tilt “the axis of world literature from the centre to the margins ...… where multiple traditions spark new forms and translation plays a crucial role.”It was founded by Deborah Smith, the English-Korean translator of Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian” and winner with her of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.Smith has commented on the founding of Tilted Axis “The idea initially came out of my own work as a translator, getting an insider’s view of the publishing industry and discovering some of the implicit biases preventing certain books from making it through into English. So our main objective is to subvert or circumvent as many of those biases as possible by publishing under-represented writing, which is an intersection of original language, style, content, and often its author’s gender. To publish it properly, in a way that makes it clear that this is art, not anthropology. To spotlight the importance of translation in making cultures less dully homogenous. To push for better rates and recognition for translators themselves”.The original author of this book is the Korean Han Yujoo, herself both a translator (in her case of English literature into Korean) and a publisher (her own micro-press Oulipo Press focuses on experimental literature).The translator of this book is Janet Hong a writer and translator living in Canada. In fascinating end note to her translation she comments that just as she was embarking on the translation she read a very favorable review of the original book by a Korean literary critic who then “noted that the story relied heavily on wordplay …and that such sections would unfortunately be lost in translation”.It is clear both from the translation that a kind of stream of consciousness wordplay, relying on word association and transitions between similar words is key to the novel – and the complexity of this is I think increased by the key role played in this by Korean characters and by what I understand to be the greater prevalence of onomatopoeia in the Korean language compared to English.My first reaction when I hear of the attempted translation such a book is two-fold – firstly to ask whether the book itself is really in any sense the same book as was originally written; secondly to query if the effort in translation can really be justified.To her credit the translator addresses effectively both these issues in her end note. The first by saying that she worked with the author on the translation (something I think which must be made a lot more valid by the author’s own translation ability and presumably English fluency). Secondly by stating (in what I think is an admiral sentiment) that the translation is a result of “a humble, passionate and joyous attempt [to share] this chilling, exquisite, mesmerizing tale with readers who otherwise would not have had access to the original”.The book has two distinct parts. The first tells the story of two children – the first is two contrasting twelve year old classmates. The first is Mia, a child with (for reasons not entirely clear) two fathers, from both of whom her mother seems estranged, a situation she exploits to her own advantage, by leveraging the guilt of the three parents to get what she wants. Mia herself could be described as pre/early-adolescent, feeling to herself misunderstood and unfortunate, but to others as being blessed with looks, intelligence and possessions. She talks about violent acts (being for example taken with a detective novel where someone is killed by the sharp end of fountain pen dropped from a great height) and thinks about killing others, but its clear her talk and thoughts are very theoretical and childish.The second is quite literally anonymous, both to us and to her classmates – known only as “The Child”. She is clearly physically and mentally abused by her parents – and yet, as part of her anonymity and invisibility, the other children and more damningly the adults at the school, completely overlook and even rationalise the clear evidence and signs of that abuse (bleeding, bruises, even ripped off fingernails). The Child also thinks violent thoughts – but it is clear in her case firstly that her experience and knowledge of violence is much more real and mature, and secondly that the boundary between thought and action is much more blurred (for example when she murders a stray cat).The children’s society is one marked by the almost casual acceptance of violence – the children by small chicks and then devise ways to kill them, their default game when adults are not present is the “fainting game” where they choke each other to the point of passing out. As a fairytale this owes much more to the traditional fairytales, with their assumption of darkness and malevolence, than the Disney-fied versions of childhood innocence – and there is an unsettling undercurrent to the story which we know is going to end far from happily ever after.Chapters alternate between the viewpoints of The Child and Mia, and the Child’s sections in particular grow in menace, undercut by the increasing use of rhythmic and often violent word imagery and associations. A repeated theme in this section is a series of forking paths outside of the school.The second part of the book takes a distinct meta-fictional turn – it starts with a series of odd dream sequences, but then the narrator of the second part, seemingly a teacher is confronted in a class by an unexpected and familiar face. We realise that the narrator is the author of the first part of the book, and the other character her fictional creation The Child, and that time is somehow mixed between the events of the book, and the period in which the author meets her own creation (possibly 8 or 15 years later). The Child retraces some of her actions in the first part, reads the journals the author wrote when she was reading the book and debates with the author who was really responsible for The Child’s actions in the first part – The Child or the author who had planned out what she was going to do.As an example in the journal, The Child reads (in what serves as an excellent description of the contrasting characters of Mia and her in the first part)“Scary, fearful, sickening, terrifying, hideous, frightful, chilly”. These were probably meant for me. And below were these adjectives “premature, immature, unripe, young, delicate, childish”. These were probably meant not for me, but someone else. I’m sure of itThere are further hints that in writing the first part, the author based the character of The Child (and possibly Mia) on aspects of her own childhood. Before she meets The Child, she saysI can disguise my childhood and as I disguise it I can make allusions, and as I reveal details about the allusions, I can make them appear fictitious, and in this way I can deceive you all.When The Child confronts her after class, the meeting is precipitated by the narrator falling down stairs (in the same was as happens to The Child frequently in the first part); further her initial reaction to seeing The Child face to face is:The face is unfamiliar. The face watches me in silence. I see myself in that face. It’s actually mine. We may have had the same childhood. She’s me. You’re me. But I’m not me and I don’t look like anyone else. I sense that the writing about me has already begunThis impression is made stronger by a powerful section in the first part, which completely goes against the flow of the rest of that part, and features short paragraphs on each of the class members, featuring some incident from their childhood which they remember (seemingly as adults).The second section, like the first, features the same stream of consciousness, word-association, wordplay. Unfortunately this technique is not always (in fact not often) successful and instead distracts from what from the core elements of each part – the growing menace of the first part and the meta-fictional aspects of the second.As an example a bizarre dream sequence early in the second part, contains repeated variation around a nag which is nagging the narrator, a dog which has dried out, discussions of the word confusion having no opposite, some very odd discussions of the differences between lilacs and buttercups and lots of repetition of the word bricks. Some of this effect may be lost in translation – for example I have no idea of what lies behind the choice of the nag that nags and what was in the original Korean, but whatever it was the effect in English is very weak. However I suspect that most of the fault is not barriers in the translation, but ones that the author has added herself in the original Korean. Disappointingly and surprisingly for someone who I understand started her writing career in short stories, Han Yunjo seems unable to write the tight prose that is really needed to add real menace to the first part and real insight into the authorial process into the second. My thanks to Tilted Axis for a review copy.

  • Neil
    2019-04-08 23:17

    The Impossible Fairy Tale is published by Tilted Axis Press.Founded in 2015 and based in south London, Tilted Axis is a not-for-profit press on a mission to shake up contemporary international literature. Tilted Axis publishes the books that might not otherwise make it into English, for the very reasons that make them exciting to us – artistic originality, radical vision, the sense that here is something new.The novel was written by Korean author Han Yujoo and translated by Janet Hong. Whilst I have zero knowledge of Korean, I believe from what I read in the English version that translation must have presented some serious challenges. If I have read the book correctly, there is a lot of word play, word association, word trickery involved and this must be every translator's nightmare (just because a word spelled the same can have several different meanings in one language - my favourite in English is "scuttle" - that does not mean the same word will have the same different meanings in another language. In fact, I doubt that ever really happens).Fellow Goodreader Paul has far more inside knowledge about Korean language and culture than I do and his review is well worth reading for both those insights and for his comments on the book in general. ( gut feeling is that we mere mortals lacking in Korean language skills perhaps miss some of the important aspects of this book.The book is split into two parts. The first part tells us the story of Mia and The Child (no name given), along with several other characters, although adults are mostly noticeable by their absence - they are referred to rather than active most of the time. You know a book is going to get a bit creepy when a child is given a title rather than a name. Mia has a relatively good life. In fact the book says Mia is lucky. She does not lack for things. On the other hand, The Child has a hard life. Somewhere outside of the book, her domestic situation seems to include a lot of abusive physical and mental violence. To begin with, The Child seems perhaps a rebellious, naughty child. But her actions gradual turn darker and darker until a final climax at the end of the first part of the book. This won’t be a surprise to most readers as there are plenty of hints and the general mood of the story indicates that what happens is going to happen.The second part of the book is where things start to get really interesting. This second part takes the form of a first person narrative which the author writes to/about The Child. This becomes then an exploration of what it means to create a character in a novel (and what it means to BE a character in a novel). There are multiple references back to the story in the first part. For example, in the first part we read of The ChildShe habitually eats paper. Without being aware of it, she tears the paper into little pieces and puts them in her mouth.And then we read the author writing to The Child in the second half sayingYou habitually eat paper. Without being aware of it, you tore the paper into little pieces and put them in your mouth.There are other examples along the same lines.And we see the author thinking about what it means to create a character when she writesEvery time I see you enact the habits I’ve designed, I feel both an unnameable sense of happiness and unease.And we see the created character starting to take on a life of its own when The Child, in the dialogue written by the author, saysI’m going to write what you’re unable to write,…In this way, there are elements of this book that remind me of An English Guide to Birdwatching, because both books exist in two halves where the first half tells a story and the second half the reflects back that story in some kind of meta-narrative fashion. The approach these two books take to this is very different, with Birdwatching taking a more theoretical stance and this book exploring a dialogue between the author and one of her characters. But there are definite similarities in the overall ambition of the books. You can tell by my ratings which one I preferred, although I am not sure I have got the balance right and may change my mind. What Birdwatching has in theory and intelligence, this book makes up for with atmosphere and drama, so it’s a difficult one to decide. Of course, there isn’t normally any real requirement to decide between books. They have similarities and they have differences, so perhaps best to leave it at that.

  • Jackie Law
    2019-04-02 18:40

    The Impossible Fairytale, by Han Yujoo (translated by Janet Hong), tells the story of The Child, a twelve year old girl living in Korea who, unbeknown to anyone at her school, suffers appalling abuse at the hands of her mother. She deals with her pain by inflicting suffering on others. She wants to kill.The Child has learned that punishments are minimised if she is can get through each day unnoticed. She moves softly, interacts only when necessary, rarely speaks. She lives life on the margins, merging with the background of others’ everyday existence.The reader is introduced to her classmates. Mia is a pretty girl granted everything she desires by her indulgent parents. She keeps two journals – one to be handed in at school and one for her secrets. As she lives a gentle, unconstrained life her secrets are few.The boys in the class play rough games, hurting each other in the name of fun. They torture and kill insects and small animals. They mercilessly bully a child with special needs. Mia and The Child observe this behaviour. The casual cruelties of children are horrifically portrayed.The Child acquires a key to the classroom and writes in her classmates’ journals. When her tampering is discovered the teacher demands that the culprit come forward, to no avail. The Child is worried that she will be discovered and attempts to hide what she has done. A chance encounter draws Mia into her web with devastating consequences.The second part of the book picks up the story and turns meta, developing it from the point of view of an author completing the work. This change took some time to segue with before regaining my attention.Throughout there is much play on words. The voice employed in both sections is detached yet compelling. There is repetition and a number of strange dream sequences but what is conveyed remains chillingly coherent.The writing is savage, playful, visceral and intellectually stimulating. There is a raw energy to its progression, a dreadful realism at the heart of its depictions that make them grim yet gripping.Unusual but never difficult, this is an impressive read.My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Tilted Axis.

  • Leah Bayer
    2019-04-16 18:24

    This book has all the ingredients of something I should love. Strange Asian magical realism about dark, disturbing children? Twisted fairy-tale elements? Surreal and unsettling writing? A surprise meta-narrative? Yes to all of these things. And while I think The Impossible Fairy Tale does a lot right, I found it falling surprisingly flat for me by the end. My absolute favorite element here was the writing itself. It's strange and disturbing and unlike anything I've read before. The narrative will circle around itself, starting with an idea or concept and discussing it in a strangely repetitive fashion before veering in a totally different direction. There are large chunks that literally feel like you are in a dark fairy tale: it's confusing and gets under your skin, but also feels strangely glimmering and magical. I was totally enchanted by it, and I'll read anything Yujoo writes in the future for sure.And the first half of the story is actually fairly strong. It's definitely got that fairy tale style where the reader is kept at arm's length from the characters so there is an emotional distance, but the mirroring of Mia (the Good Child) and The Child (the "Bad" Child) was deftly done and very interesting. In fact, there are a lot of aspects of the story (from characters to plots to colors) that are mirrored so cleverly. It makes you feel off-balance because it's repetitive but also... not quite the same. Like fun house mirror versions of things you read about. My issue is the same as almost everyone else's: the big shift right in the middle. I actually loved the idea (someone writing a story suddenly confronted with a character they thought they had made up) but it went nowhere. The plot was moving along steadily, there's a big event, the characters come to life (or were possibly alive all along?) and then bam, dead in the water. It meanders around for another 40% of what feels like filler. I think there was SO much potential when The Child confronts The Author, but we got nothing out of it. It was a waste of paper, really, and I found myself insanely frustrated with this section. What was the point? I have no idea. 3 stars is usually a pretty "it was okay, I'm neutral on it" rating, but this book I both loved and hated. It was magical but frustrating, and didn't live up to either the hype or the amazing premise. I'm happy I read it because the writing is truly fantastic, but I'm also really sad about the (lack of) direction it went in to.

  • Marisa
    2019-04-13 01:36

    2.5 stars.I had such high hopes for this one and I am very sorry to report that it left me so very conflicted. There is no denying that Han Yujoo has serious writing chops, or that she has a very interesting premise going into this novel. However, I felt held at arm's length for the majority of the novel and then the second half... well, who the hell knows what was going on there.Read my full reviewhere!

  • Victoria
    2019-03-23 23:29

    The plot of this book never once flowed in an expected direction, yet all the emotions behind the characters, Mia, The Child, and even Inju, felt real and fully developed. The intricate wordplay in this story showcases the highly skilled translation of Janet Hong. The way that Han Yujoo explores with her words, creating seemingly simple sentences and minutely changing a syllable or a tense to create a new meaning, a new dimension to the text was reflected so beautifully in Janet Hong's translation that it has me itching to see the original text so as to fully understand the mammoth task that she undertook.As this novel was more abstract and conceptual than I initially expected, it turned out to be much more work as a reader than I wanted. However, it was nonetheless a fascinating book and leaves me excited to read more from both the author and the translator.

  • Ariell
    2019-04-19 20:27

    weird and intriguing.I reviewed this for the magazine Words Without Borders."For a book full of so much mystery, the creative mission of Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale is remarkable for its author's openness about choices regarding how to tell stories, how an author reveals information, and the dissecting and peeling away of the layers of artifice inherent in the reading and writing of fiction.Broken into two parts, Part I begins with Mia, an average twelve-year-old in an average neighborhood attending an average school in South Korea in the 1990s...."

  • BookishDubai
    2019-04-17 21:24

    "Every beautiful thing cracks and shatters and collapses and crumples and bleeds. If not now, it will eventually."While the writing was beautiful, the story itself just seemed to go nowhere. One star for the writing and one for the beautiful book cover (Designed by Kapo Ng)

  • Arjay
    2019-03-26 22:22

    I, like many others, don't quite know what to make of this novel. I think this is my first foray into experimental fiction? But what I do know is that Han Yujoo/Janet Hong's words certainly flow off the page. I'm hesitant to really rate or review, as this is a translated work that is heavily dependent on Korean wordplay, but the fact that the English is still quite beautiful is a testament to Janet Hong's translating prowess. I can only imagine how much effort she put into capturing the spirit of Han Yujoo's words.This book is frequently described as having two separate parts, the first being about two children, and the second being about the narrator of the first story confronting one of the children (i.e. their character). Really though it's just all one meta-narrative wrapped with a ribbon of creeping horror.I think it's worth the read.

  • Callum McAllister
    2019-03-21 17:19

    Inventive and creepy. It sucked me in. Though, I guess it didn't blow me away.

  • Cathrine
    2019-04-06 19:44

    Wow :-) a Korean Ali Smith! I am in love!Thank you :-)

  • Jennifer Thorndike
    2019-03-31 23:38

    First part really good. Second part :(

  • Laurin
    2019-04-09 18:38

    I've never read a book like this before. I think that I loved this book so much because I was drawn to Yujoo's style of repeating words and ideas, circling back each time to add one small detail on top. I'm so amazed that this was able to be done consistently in a translation! This book read like experimental poetry, and for that I loved it.

  • Laura
    2019-04-10 22:27

    Here’s a warning: There are plenty of vertigo-inducing moments in Han Yujoo’s debut novel The Impossible Fairy Tale. The strange but straightforward plot from the first half turns in and back on itself in the second half like a Christopher Nolan film, to dizzying effect. As the narrator states: “even as you’re being deceived, you’re not deceived, and even as you’re not being deceived, you’re deceived still. In this way, the sole objective of the stories I want to tell is to throw you into an unclear state, to make you believe while you’re not able to believe.”I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we laud Yujoo for her brilliance with form and construction, we should applaud her plot. The novel opens in 1998 in “an ordinary residential area in a city outside Seoul,” a place that is “both everywhere and nowhere.” Mia is a lucky 12-year-old student spoiled by two fathers who rival for her and her mother’s affections. Her days are filled with the banalities and cruelties of children: visits with her new deskmate; the boys playing a fainting game in the back of the classroom; one boy loudly declaring how he killed four small chicks simply to watch them die.Into this boisterous mix comes a student known simply as The Child: a “luckless” girl whose “eyes resemble the eyes of a fish.” When she sneaks into the classroom one night and writes an additional sentence in each child’s journal, she sets in motion a series of events that bolster the dark ambitions of the children, ending in a terrible murder.And that’s when Yujoo pulls the rug out from under us. Part 2 opens with the book’s writer giving a lecture on narrative construction in 2013, and when she looks out at her students she sees The Child from Part 1 sitting at a desk, filling the author with “both an unnameable sense of happiness and unease.” She has questions the author didn’t expect, such as is she alive or is she dead, and who is responsible for the murder: her or the writer?Experimental fiction is often derided by those outside high literary circles as cerebral and unemotional, as some authors focus exclusively on form at the expense of plot and connection. Han Yujoo, however, is not an experimental writer so much as a writer who experiments with narrative construction, meaning her work is a victory of form that packs an emotional wallop. She pulls the reader into the text using traditional experimental techniques such as clever use of second person, then goes beyond, establishing a more powerful — and confounding — connection through shared memory, repetition and heart.Finishing The Impossible Fairy Tale, then, is like waking up from a dream so real it feels like a forgotten memory. With her shifts and slights of hand, Han Yujoo makes us question the narrative constructions we lean on to understand and move through our own worlds, leaving us in a state of unknowing that is both terrifying and exhilarating.I write weekly book reviews for The Gazette. Read more at

  • Imogen
    2019-03-25 21:24

    A strange, chilling book with an unusual and unexpected meta-narrative (it half reminded me of Mr. Fox in this respect). The edition I read emphasised the role of the translator (the original Korean relies heavily on word play), which I found interesting. Overall - grim but intriguing.

  • Taylor Bradley
    2019-03-28 20:36

    The prose is too exquisitely written and translated to receive less than three stars. The story is too repetitive, formless, inert to receive more than two stars. Which will it be? Two stars or three stars. The reviewer flips a coin, specifically a 100 won coin, to determine the rating. Heads is 3 stars, tails is 2 stars. Look at the coin. It is tails. 2 stars. This book is unlucky.

  • Michelle
    2019-03-28 00:20

    incredible as a work of experimental fiction. incredible as a story. pushes the boundary between reading and reader, writing and writer, imagination and plot. also a total mindfuck, but in the best way possible. excellent translating.

  • Cynthia Palm
    2019-04-05 19:26

    I could not finish this book. I was hugely confused most of the time. I disliked the violence involving animals and children. I stayed with it until Part 2 hoping somehow I would finally understand the point and it was just more of the same. Too many good books out there to waste time on this one.

  • Peter
    2019-04-15 22:35

    The Impossible Fairy Tale (2013) is the first novel by Korean writer Han Yujoo to be translated into English. It is short, just over 200 pages, is written in monosyllables like a children’s story, and is a very weird parable about the evil inherent in mankind, in this case in children. It’s a modern rendition of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. The tale is told in two parts. In the first part we follow the characters in the third person, a choice that emphasizes our distance from them just as it highlights their distance from each other. The story is told in the childlike cadence of a fairy tale, a style that contrasts nicely with the underlying evil, creating a sense of evil's banality. We meet two young girls, Mia and the never-named The Child, thirteen and twelve respectively, who are in the same fifth grade class. The imagery concisely captures the essence of the two main characters: in moments of stress Mia develops “white psoriasis” around her mouth, suggesting death or purity; The Child sees “collapses” of things around her, a description of her mental state.Mia is a “lucky” girl; her mother loves her, she has two fathers whom she can play against each other for gifts that her mother denies her, she is trusting and trustworthy. Mia is also selfish and grasping, as are most fifth graders. Like all children in her class Mia keeps a school journal recording her thoughts and activities, a journal that is reviewed regularly by her teacher. She also keeps a private second journal filled largely with her material wishes. The Child is Mia’s classmate and alter ego, a “luckless” girl with an angry mother at home. The Child is pure id. She expects punishment, she feels invisible, and she shows a wide streak of cruelty fueled by the fear that her mother instills. She has visions of mice and ants tormenting her, and she wants to disappear. The Child also keeps a school journal. It is filled with beautiful words but its entries have dark and hidden meaning—it is written in a word substitution code using beautiful words in place of brutal words. For example, the word “wind” is a substitute for “bruise,” giving an entirely different meaning to a simple sentence like, “I went home and felt the wind when I opened the door.” The teacher is, of course, clueless and when she read the journal she always responds, “This has no concrete story.” It’s a summary of The Child’s life.Strange things happen in Mia’s class: chicks brought to the classroom have been dying; the children’s journals kept under the teacher’s desk suddenly have mysterious and disturbing notations like “I hate you;” the boys play the “fainting game” in which a boy is strangled until he faints; a rumor circulates among the parents that a boy in the class engages in animal cruelty with the class chicks, burning them in the microwave oven and doing other unspeakable things. The parent grapevine also says that Mia started the story and Mia’s mother is shamed by the news that Mia would start such a rumor. She confronts Mia, who says, truthfully, that she never said such a thing. But Mia isn’t believed. A search of Mia’s room brings her secret second journal to light.Disturbing events multiply and build on each other, heightening the tension—something awful is going to happen within this small collection of children on the edge of their teens. But when the awful arrives it is so sudden and stealthy that its almost unnoticed, its just another part of an impossible fairy tale. Thus ends Part 1, the central story. One would expect tht Part 2 would be the aftermath—identification of the killer, conviction, and punishment. But not so. The reader is gloriously surprised with a first person dialogue that challenges the reality of the story and the faint line between reality and imagination. This is perhaps the most unique ending of a novel that I’ve ever read. Every fairy tale has a moral. This one is that sometimes the bad things that happen can't happen. I found it exciting, but from the rather dismal average rating given it by Goodreads readers, I’m in the minority. So be it.Five Stars.

  • Teresa
    2019-03-25 00:16

    This book was divided into two parts. After finishing the first part of the book, I would have given the story about 3 or 4 stars. But after the second part, my positive feelings about the book were greatly reduced. Part two of the book is experimental in nature. I like connecting to characters in a story. But in Han's experimental section, the emphasis is on showing how her story was built. As a result, I couldn't connect to the characters very well in the second part of the book. The things that I thought were positive about the book are:- The author portrayed different kinds of difficulties that children face within families. She portrayed a child who is severely abused and also a child who comes from a blended family.- The author has a talent for creating suspense. I wanted to keep reading the book and was able to finish it quite quickly.The things I thought were negative about the book (I'm going to hide this part because of spoilers):(view spoiler)[- While the first portion of the book uses conventional storytelling, the second section of the book employs meta fiction. The second section follows the author of the book as a main character. The author is visited by her character the Child. Because of this shift in the storytelling it made me not care about the story any more. Ms. Han is making the reader examine and accept that the entire first portion of the novel is made up. While reading the second part, I felt myself care less and less about the Child (though I had cared for her deeply in Part I). I tried to transfer my empathy from the Child to the author, but really it wasn't happening. I know that if the entire novel had just been told traditionally, minus the meta-fiction portion, I would have enjoyed the book so much more. - The afterword, in my interpretation, completely lacks any heart. It uses an extended math metaphor. It reinforced in me the feeling that my empathetic connection to the characters had been cut off by the author's writing style.- The author has a recurring motif about objects appearing and then disappearing. It was repeated a lot through out the second portion. I don't really understand the purpose of the motif, and also these sections made me feel nothing. I think Han was interested in the power of the author to both create and destroy the story. But I personally don't have any interest in this. Here is an example of this motif: "The four seasons pass. But no one passes by. It rains. It snows. The wind blows and clouds pass by. A heavy rain falls and a light breeze blows. It grows misty and the sun shines. You feel neither warmth nor cold. All the world's seasons penetrate you." - Lastly, I find it perhaps gratuitous to portray children committing extreme acts of violence. Or if it's not gratuitous, I can say that it's just not within my tastes. I know many readers love books like Battle Royale, which is a dystopian story full of child violence. Just me personally, it's not something I like to read. (hide spoiler)]Overall, I think this author has a natural knack for storytelling. I would definitely try out another novel from her. But I hope that if she continues with experimental writing that she works to make those portions more accessible and enjoyable for the average reader.

  • Jan
    2019-04-16 17:36

    Underneath the brightly colored cover of this book is a satisfyingly dark novel. It was a little too meta for my brain, so I had to read other published reviews to wrap my head around this. I also listened to this interview with the author herself, found at this link.The first part of the novel is a morbid story of young elementary school children, mainly focusing on a girl named Mia and another girl simply referred to as "the Child". We then go to metafiction territory in the second part.I like Han Yujoo's creative style in this novel. It's different and refreshing, though it might test the patience of some readers. Some paragraphs are deliberately repetitive and there's also lots of wordplay going on. Ineluctably, some nuances will definitely be lost in translation, so credits to translator Janet Hong for keeping the English version as faithful as possible to the original in Korean.One example of wordplay is the recurring references to dogs in the novel. In the interview I referenced above, Han briefly explains this: "Dog" in Korean is 개 (gae / geh) while "the Child" is 그 아이 (geu ah-ee). Say "그 아이" fast, over and over, and the resulting contraction becomes "개". Interesting.For now, this is all I can make of The Impossible Fairy Tale. To appreciate this more, I'll be reading this again when my "pending-to-read" list becomes more manageable.LitHub has an excerpt here.

  • enricocioni
    2019-03-25 21:29

    On the night of the day I started The Impossible Fairytale, I dreamed I was one of first three people in the city to read it. We met to discuss it every Wednesday. We were like Macbeth's witches. When we went our separate ways after the meetings, we told everyone else about the book. We recited passage after passage. And the book spread from person to person like an enchantment. It was like in Sleeping Beauty where everybody has fallen asleep, except instead of sleeping everybody was reading The Impossible Fairytale.There is something witchy about this book. It is often concerned with finding the proper names for things. Its sentences are short and repetitive, lending its long paragraphs a hypnotic quality. There is a scene that could be interpreted as animal sacrifice. There are superstitions. There are disquieting dreams. It's rich in wordplay, which the translator, Janet Hong, did a heroic job of conveying in English. It's rich in strange imagery, starting with the black dog swimming downriver in the first chapter. And everyone who's read The Prisoner of Azkaban knows that black dogs are omens. If a mutilated copy of The Impossible Fairytale were lucky enough to make it through one of the many coming apocalypses, I can imagine a band of salvagers coming across it poking out of a sand dune, and mistaking it for a book of spells.For my full review, head over to my blog, Strange Bookfellows: https://strangebookfellowsblog.wordpr...

  • Unpeudelecture Virginie
    2019-03-22 22:31

    Je tiens tout d’abord à remercier les « Éditions Decrescenzo » pour m’avoir fait découvrir ce livre. J’ai choisi ce livre pour deux raisons : sa magnifique couverture avec ses couleurs pastel et son résumé qui m’a intriguée. J’ai eu un peu de mal avec cette lecture, car je n’ai pas réussi à retrouver ce que le résumé nous promettait. Il faut dire que j’ai trouvé l’écriture de l’auteur vraiment très spéciale et je dois bien avouer que j’ai été gênée par les trop nombreuses répétitions qui jalonnent le récit. Par moment, je me suis un peu ennuyée. J'ai trouvé ce roman vraiment très étrange et je pense qu’il n’était pas fait pour moi. Certains passages de l’histoire étaient même difficile à comprendre, même après parfois plusieurs lectures. Je ne sais pas si c’est volontaire de la part de l’auteur d’avoir voulu nous laisser dans le flou, mais là, pour le coup, j’ai trouvé ça un peu laborieux à lire. Je ne dirais pas je n’ai pas aimé, mais je ne dirais pas non plus que j’ai apprécié. C’est assez rare qu’une lecture me laisse ce genre de sentiments, mais je ne vais pas faire de la langue de bois et vous dire que ce roman a été une déception pour moi. Attention, je ne dis pas qu’il le sera pour vous, donc n’hésitez pas à lui laisser sa chance et peut-être que l’histoire vous plaira. À lire !

  • Bunyip
    2019-03-22 21:21

    This book is incredible!The first half is like a if a book were a painting, made up of thousands of tiny brushstrokes until a full scene emerges. Tiny brushstrokes that overlap and cover each other or blend together.I read the subject of this novel as an expression of an author's attempts to be erased and eternalised in the same movement, or in the same story. She's trying to make characters that are as real as she is, and she does this by breaking them down into tiny pieces, and then those pieces down into tinier ones. The action of constantly breaking down proves the existence of the thing, because a fake thing or a lie would eventually vaporise under the pressure.The conflict then, I suppose, is that the main character does not want to exist and that the breaking hurts her.The bricks were my favourite part. When the objects of the story won't flow with it, they become bricks. There are whole paragraphs with every second word being 'brick', making the entire page into a brick wall.IT'S VERY VERY GOOD AND I LIKED IT A LOT.

  • Hendecam
    2019-03-25 00:37

    While 'The Impossible Fairy Tale' is interesting, unique, and very readable, it's ultimately unsatisfying. It's more of a 2.5 star read for me, but I'll give it 3. The first part of the book revolves around young children, the two main characters being Mia and a girl only referred to as the Child (she's so unremarkable she doesn't deserve a name). Mia seems to have all the luck while the Child is neither lucky nor unlucky. When the Child adds strange sentences to the journals of her classmates, an unfortunate series of events is set into place, escalating in great violence. The second part of the book revolves around the author of the first part. Yeah, strange, right? It gets even stranger. I like odd/unique but didn't feel the book totally came together in the end. The author seems to be commenting on an authors relationship to her characters, but, eh, it got less and less interesting by the final pages.

  • Drine Psylook
    2019-03-31 19:27

    Je pense que le style d’écriture de l’auteure est à l’origine des soucis que j’ai rencontrés.Déjà, elle use et abuse des effets d’insistance en multipliant les répétitions. Ça passe de temps en temps, mais là, c’est constamment ; ça alourdit le récit et ça rend la lecture ennuyeuse et laborieuse.De plus, on a droit à un certain nombre de passages très flous, principalement lors d’actions. Par contre, il faut laisser à l’auteure le fait que lorsqu’elle décrit des scènes de bout en bout, elles deviennent impressionnantes : que ce soit les moments avec les poussins, le chaton sur le toit-terrasse ou l’événement final, c’était dérangeant, oppressant, génial au final… Je m’attendais à ce que la totalité du livre soit ainsi mais non.Du coup, c’est malheureusement une déception pour cette lecture, certes poétique par moment, mais nébuleuse la majorité du temps.