The Impossible Fairy Tale

July 2, 2018

The Impossible Fairy Tale is the story of two unexceptional grade-school girls.

Mia is ‘lucky’—she is spoiled by her mother and 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 a 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 act unlocks a series of events that end in horrible violence.

In this dreamy, hypnotic and deeply unsettling novel, Han casts an uncanny glow over the innocence of childhood, and the ethics of art-making. Brilliantly rendered in Janet Hong’s translation, Han’s prose makes us question where life ends and the book begins.

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