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The Impossible Fairytale

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  525 ratings  ·  118 reviews

The Impossible Fairytale tells the story of the nameless Child, who struggles to make a mark on the world, and her classmate Mia, whose spoiled life is everything the Child's is not.

At school, adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by soul-crushing hierarchies and an underlying menace. Then, one
Kindle Edition, 225 pages
Published April 28th 2017 by Tilted Axis Press (first published March 16th 2013)
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Paul Fulcher
And now Janet Hong and her editor Ethan Nosowsky win the TA First Translation Prize from the Society of Authors, from some very strong competition.

December 2018 update: Janet Hong is now, deservedly, winner of the LTI Korea Translation Award for her English rendition of this book.

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
Gumble's Yard
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 2018r
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
David Yoon
Its 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
Alice Lippart
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).
Apr 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, asian-books
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.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The weirdest book I have ever read. It reminded me a lot of Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, though it's not really like it at all. Some of the writing was incredibly beautiful, while other sections were downright bizarre and hard to fathom, or just simply upsetting. I'm actually at a bit of a loss for words on what to say about it. I'll put it this way though: if another Han Yujoo novel is translated into English, I will without a doubt read it. But... yeah... this book was strange and it made ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
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
Taylor Bradley
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.
Leah Bayer
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
Jackie Law
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Cat  (cat-thecatlady)
trigger warning: physical abuse, violence, abuse towards animals, death

this is a rather unconventional book, and its cruel, violent and surreal world wont please everyone. personally, I really loved it. the first part absolutely stood out to me. the writing style is quite exquisite and the way the story alternates between the two characters (and the duality of their two lives) is so interesting to read. the second part didnt seem as well accomplished to me. it was a bit overwhelming in its
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
2.5 stars. I really wanted to like this book, but I finished it feeling disturbed and confused - which was perhaps the intent, I am not sure. If you are planning to read it be warned it is quite violent, including murder, child abuse, animal abuse, and animal death.

Though it is violent, I was really engaged by the first section which follows two girls who are from very different family circumstances. But the second section felt like a deconstructed/post-modern narrative which was really
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 Yujoos 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
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 review here!
"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)
Bookteafull (Danny)
Jun 28, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf, shit-list
DNF @ 25% because therapy sessions for trauma are too expensive

Premise sounded promising and dark, but the writing?

This narrative was originally written in Korean and then translated, so I'm not quite sure who to blame or if the literature simply makes more sense in Korean. Ether way - this shit was a fucking nightmare to get through. Well, attempt to get through.

I should have taken the first chapter as the glaringly obvious warning sign it was. For those who are delightfully ignorant, it
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fuuuuuck. fuck. fuckfuckfuck. fuck
Elizabeth Smart
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-read
I finished this walking down the street, and as I turned the last page I said WOOF out loud. I dont really know why. This book was beautiful and terrible to read every moment I was reading it, but when I wasnt reading it, I didnt really think about it. It was mesmerizing and made me think about identity and authorship and point of view, but it also made no sense and I cant begin to analyze it. Its very Separate. ...more
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heres a warning: There are plenty of vertigo-inducing moments in Han Yujoos 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 youre being deceived, youre not deceived, and even as youre not being deceived, youre deceived still. In this way, the sole objective of the stories I want to tell is to throw you into an unclear ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the strangest book I've read so far this year. It might be the strangest book I have ever read. I am not entirely convinced I completely grasped what was happening at times. It's surreal. But it is also haunting, and arresting, and so unique. The story, such as it is, of an unnamed child and her tangential relationship to Mia, a "lucky" classmate who has so many things The Child has never had, is slow-moving, almost a clinical analysis of the lives of students, both ordinary and ...more
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whoa! Just Whoa! I don't even know how to describe what I read.
It's very dark which is so deceiving given how it looks on the outside.
It is a translated work so you do have to read with an open mind since it is written in a particular style that's not like anything I've read before.It's so interesting I wish I could reread it in Korean.
The first part is written back and forth focusing on two of the characters and the second part (I won't spoil it) is written in a way that is very otherworldly?
Trigger warnings: child abuse, graphic animal abuse, animal death, murder, blood.

Uh. WTF did I just read?? I can't even remember where I heard about this book, but wherever it was, I heard good things about it. And the first half of the book was definitely an engaging story. The first half tells the story of two young girls, growing up in South Korea, and the ways in which their very different lives overlap. It ends on a shocking note, and I was honestly left staring at the page in horror.

Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: collezione
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
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
Lex Poot
What a strange book. First part had me on the edge of my seat. Alas the second part of the book left me totally befuddled. The narrator seems to shift between two (or more) personalities. It does not really explain nor add on to the first part of the book. Too bad as Han Yujoo can be an excellent writer.
Marina Woollven
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's hard to see, at first, where the Fairytale is in this. And then you get further in, and the story starts to unfurl, and you wonder if maybe you understand now.

This book is a creative marvel that reveals its own threads in a way not often seen. There's something remarkable about the way the words are used, scattered and repeated, keeping the reader at a calculated distance. I wonder how much of this is due to translation, but regardless, its a beautiful and aching book.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Han Yujoo is a South Korean writer. Her novels portray not so much the fate of people embroiled in some kind of conflict as their psychological state when they contemplate a situation or idea

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