Stranger than Fiction: The Impossible Fairytale by Han Yujoo

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.21 Autumn 2013
  • byYang Yun-eui
The Impossible Fairytale

The Impossible Fairytale is told in two parts. The first part largely deals with an abused child’s diary. The second part is presented as the diary of the writer of this book. In the first part, Choi Mi-ah is killed by a classmate (in Korean, “mi-ah” means “lost child”). In the second part, the child who is presumed to be Mi-ah’s killer comes to the writer and asks, “Who am I?” The only answer the writer gives is, “The child killed Mi-ah. Mi-ah’s death was planned—that is, it was there in my notes from the beginning. An unnamable sense of guilt haunted me while I was writing the scene where Mi-ah is murdered.”

This guilt is an expression of impossibility, as guilt is the ultimate, invisible burden that can never be shaken off. The novel operates on three levels of impossibility. First, it is impossible to have a fairytale where the exchange of violence is mutual. This is an expression of the author’s guilt about the violence of the outside world. Secondly, the border of fiction and reality is breached in the second part of the novel, which demonstrates the limitations of the genre itself. The child’s questioning of the novelist, the creator of this character, is as unlikely an encounter as that of man and God. Thirdly, the novelist’s involvement in the novel is so meta that a descent into the abstract is inevitable, regardless of the writer’s intentions. All that is left is a sentence like: “Nothing is precise. Or imprecise, for that matter.”

The Impossible Fairytale is stranger than the fairytale or novel that the author is parodying. This fragile balance relies on wordplay, or using the limitations of language to overcome the limitations of objects. Wordplay, by definition, is an attempt to resurrect meaning from non-meaning, and herein rests the last impossibility. The lunacy of such wordplay like sangcheo (hurt), cheongsa (an official building), sacheong (a short break after a long day of rain), chaseong (the second brightest star) is unfortunately lost in translation. 

Author's Profile

Han Yujoo debuted in 2003 by winning the Literature and Society’s New Writers Award for the short story “To the Moon.” She won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009. She has authored the short story collections To the Moon, Book of Ice, and My Left Hand the King and My Right Hand the King’s Scribe, and the novel The Impossible Fairy Tale, which has been translated into English and French. She is also a noted translator, whose works include translations of Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, and Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful and The Ongoing Moment, among others, into Korean. She is an active member of an experimental group called Rue and also runs Oulipopress, an independent publisher.