the impossible fairytale

Han Yujoo

(translated by Janet Hong) 



A transfixing and terrifying work by a wildly original new voice in global literature. Plumbing the depths of language to excavate the relationship between author and character, this story about the fragility of innocence and the power of memory quickly transforms into an unsettling and exquisite meditation on art and cruelty.

What are the narrative constructions we lean on to understand the world? Why are the things we wish we didn’t have to see so seductive? Where does sleep end and reality begin?

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, 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 soul-crushing hierarchies and an underlying menace. One day after hours the Child sneaks into the classroom to add ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks, setting in motion a series of cataclysmic events.

In the second half of the book, a teacher, who is also this book’s author, wakes from an intense dream. When she arrives at her next class, she recognises a student: the Child, who knows about the events of the novel’s first half, which took place years before.


First published in the UK by Tilted Axis Press and in the US by Graywolf Press.


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FORMAT: Paperback

LENGTH: 296 pp.

ISBN: 9781925704075




Han Yujoo was born in Seoul in 1982. Her debut novel   The Impossible Fairytale  is her first work    translated into English, published by Graywolf in the USA and by Tilted Axis Press in the UK. She is also the author of the short-story collections   To the Moon, Book of Ice, and My Left Hand the King, My Right Hand the King’s Scribe. She won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009. She is also a translator, is an active member of the experimental group Rue, and also runs her own micro-press, Oulipo Press, focusing on publishing experimental fiction.


“This début novel sketches the barbaric politics of elementary school with terrifying clarity … The narrative turn is both exuberantly postmodern and in dead earnest.”
The New Yorker

“Han Yujoo casts an uncanny cloak of dreams over a South Korean childhood. ... Janet Hong, the translator, proves adept with both the skin-prickling horror of the novel’s first half, and the second half’s dark night of the literary soul.”
The Economist

“Grappling with topics such as childhood, bullying, and what it means to tell a story, The Impossible Fairytale is an impressively unique and challenging read that is well worth your while.”

"A powerful and primal work, a deliberately constructed story that incorporates irrationality, fear and change, and holds the reader's attention throughout."
Star Tribune

“[Han’s] work is a victory of form that packs an emotional wallop. . . . 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.”
The Gazette

“Han pushes to the edge contextually but remains lucid in her own way; an ambitious novel for ambitious readers, and Han is a writer for those in the know to watch.”
Library Journal

“In Han’s innovative, intriguing work of metafiction—her fantastical wordplay impressively rendered by translator Hong—“The words become severed from each other,” leaving readers to ponder, decipher, admire, and applaud.”

“This transfixing experimental novel questions where sleep ends and books begin, a concept borrowed from the works of French writer Maurice Blanchot, and the atmosphere of nightmarish dread and penetrating weirdness recalls a David Lynch film.”
Publishers Weekly

“Eerie and haunting. ... The beauty of Yujoo’s writing and her expert word play, incredibly well translated by Hong, strengthens the sense of horror and unease that grows throughout the novel.”
The Riveter

“Spare [and] spellbinding. ... Han interrogates the innocence of childhood, deconstructing the child-monster by implicating the rest of society in the book’s central, murderous act. ... This debut novel confirms [Han’s] reputation as a bold young author at the vanguard of a new wave of Korean fiction. ... When the writing is not chilling or mystifying, it is beautiful—even breathtaking.”
Korean Literature Now

“With The Impossible Fairytale, Han Yujoo has crafted a novel where the deepest recesses of the subconscious are conflated with childhood memories, futuristic anime, and folk tales to express the particular unreality of a writer’s life. ... A fine book.”

“A brilliant meditation on the vileness of humanity and the ethics of narrative and storytelling, this book shows you the necessity (and dangers) of watching, listening, making.”

The Impossible Fairytale is a wildly gripping page-turner, and ultimately a powerful yet unsettling read.”
Asymptote Journal

“A tour de force. ... The world of The Impossible Fairytale is dreamlike, and the way that Yujoo carries the reader from scene to scene is both mind bendingly chaotic and strikingly beautiful.”
Heavy Feather Review

“Bold and highly original. ... The Impossible Fairytale ... remains dreamy right till the end—with sharp and beautiful imagery involving snow, little objects like keys, a dog in a river. ... Below the surface, in the nuances, empathy shines.”
On Art and Aesthetics

The Impossible Fairytale is gripping in its horror, making commonplace environments completely unsettling, and the examination of story-telling itself, a curious endeavor.”
Words Without Borders

The Impossible Fairytale is extraordinary. Disturbing and visceral in its depiction of the savagery of childhood, yet uplifting in its reinvention of literary form. A novel of hypnotic language, page-turning suspense and mind-bending metafictional twists, The Impossible Fairytale is the most eerie and fearlessly experimental work I have encountered in recent years.”
Susan Barker, author of The Incarnations

“Is this a horror story or a memoir, a work of theory or a riddle? The Impossible Fairytale does to your head what turbulence on a plane does to your stomach. While your mind is being turned inside out, pay attention to yourself laughing before you start screaming. Listen out, too, for Maurice Blanchot, who is whispering in these pages. No doubt about it, Han Yujoo is a brave and intelligent writer.”
Lara Pawson, author of This Is The Place To Be

“With minimal, yet meaningful, scenery and furniture—a classroom, a balcony, a green hair tie, a fountain pen, a paring knife—Yujoo weaves a haunting, yet spellbinding, tale about obsession, violence, psychosis and the immense and frightening force of an unquiet conscience.”
Sara Baume, author of Spill Simmer Falter Wither

“Han Yujoo shows us what we wish we didn’t have to see, what we wish we’d never seen, and what we think we see clearly but don’t. She plumbs the depths of language to excavate the relationship of author to character, transforming a story about the fragility of innocence and the power of memory into an unsettling and exquisite meditation on art and cruelty. The Impossible Fairytale is a new kind of literary horror, as intellectual as it is transfixing.”
Sarah Gerard, author of Binary Star


Janet Hong.jpg

Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work has appeared in Brick,  Lit Hub,  Asia Literary ReviewWords Without Borders, Litro,  Asymptote Journal, and the Korea Times. Her translation of Han Yujoo's The Impossible Fairy Tale was a finalist for the 2018 PEN Translation Prize. Her other translations include Ancco’s Bad Friends  (Drawn & Quarterly) and Ha Seong-nan's The Woman Next Door  (Open Letter Books).