Heart Wrenching Uprooted-Korean Magical Realism

Folklorn, by Angela Mi Young Hur, is a complex contemporary literature novel with a heavy layer of magical realism, or is it modern day shamanism? Or schizophrenia? It is many things, it weaves together loaded modern questions about immigration, loneliness, mental illness, adoption, after-war, multiculturality, applied physics, trauma, folklore, mythology and more.

This is the type of dense read where people all take away something very different. And while I will try to do justice to the book, even in a summary of this novel I can only focus on what particularly talked to me, stays in me and the questions it evoked.

The novel follows Elsa, a scientist working in Antarctica. She is on edge, brilliant but mentally unhinged by a history of violence – and the mystery her mother leaves her in the form of metaphorical Korean folk tales. Elsa is Korean American, lives in Sweden, works in Antarctica and hasn’t been home in a very long time. But can we keep going and build a life when we are always running away and don’t understand where we come from? Elsa is hunted by a ghost but who, or rather what is that girl following, reassuring and taunting her…

Like for a lot of books in that style we can never quite be sure what the magical elements of the books are: are they metaphors too? A real fantastical entity? Korean shamanism? The imprint of trauma? Or mental illness inherited from an already mentally fragile family… truthfully this is not the point of the book, to me the questions of identity when you are a second generation migrant, the role of a mother, her statues and inheritance, and the question of identity in a shifting world where things are hidden, unspoken become mysterious and hurtful. Everything in the book makes sense and joins together in a fascinating way. I was completely taken in that book and loved its analysis of society, even though I did not like Elsa very much. Her mother describes her as cold-hearted once, and you really do feel it. The mother is happy because that means her daughter won’t suffer to much… but that is when we start wondering if she didn’t become that way because she was pushed to be, and this is what is hurting her and breaking her.

This is a book made for multiple analysis, there are many layers to peel and dissect. It is not an enjoyable read per say, but a very satisfactory one for the mind. This is for people who loved “A Tale from the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki, or the philosophical, metaphysical scientific novels of the Spanish author José Carlos Somoza. I also Recommend Folklorn for people who like to decode patterns and meaning from things and events. This is a smart novel with many strings to follow and weave back into a modern Korean plat.

Folklorn is coming out in April 2021

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