Stationed at a research center on Antarctica, Elsa Park is confident that she’s finally put as much distance as she can between her and the generational trauma of her Korean-American family. When a “ghost” from her past reappears unexpectedly, Elsa must come to terms with her history – both myth and fact – whether she’s ready to or not.
“Please,” she said from her corner, “do not blame us for how our lives have turned out. Perhaps it’s not just the women in our family anyhow—our entire people have been telling the wrong stories, making a wretched mess of our history. As if anybody wants to be told that their ability to endure is their greatest virtue. No wonder we get invasions and occupations, war and asshole husbands. What kind of stories, I wonder, do the white countries tell of themselves?”Angela Mi Young Hur, Folklorn
🎀🎀🎀🎀🎀 (five stars as rated in red ribbons trailing along behind your friend each time she visits)
Folklorn is an exploration of diaspora, identity and self love at it’s most revolutionary. The experiences – both real and imagined – of the protagonist, Elsa, as well as her brother, Chris, her parents and particularly that of her friend, Oskar are all written, even at their worst with so much compassion. And while the pain was visceral at moments, it does ultimately lead to a place of healing that is deeply deserved by the characters and was profoundly satisfying for me as the reader. For me, of course, the best part of this book was getting to share it with my friends (for whom similar stories and experiences of the Asian diaspora are starkly underrepresented in publishing) relate and empathize with Folklorn so deeply. There really is no “reviewing” an experience like that.
Oskar was easily my favorite character (though the more I look back on the book I find myself really empathizing with Chris as well). Described by my friend Moon as the “hottest Korean in fiction as of now,” I was enamored with the acceptance and empathy that Oskar held for Elsa even when she could not find the will to feel it for herself. From a mental health standpoint, I hold deep appreciation for Oskar’s because of his insistence on Elsa’s value and attractiveness to him even when she was clearly not healthy. Love is not something to be withdrawn when we are at our worst. And we are not only worthy of it once we’ve found the strength – more often resources – to “fix ourselves.” The Park family exemplifies how much of a privilege the idea of “mental health” can truly be as well as the weight of generational trauma. This aspect of Elsa and Oskar’s arc together, in particular, really affected me personally.
“As a child of Korean immigrants in Spain, I’ve always have had trouble with the concept of home. An insane obsession, like the portal fantasy trope of voracious reader that finds refuge in fiction, to shield themselves from reality. Now this novel, this hit home. Not the idealistic version in which I would like to be, but the real, gritty and flawed home that my own identity inhabits. Sometimes I see my kid singing to “Let it go”, or “Into the Unknown” to the top of her lungs and feeling it, but to me, the Elsa that adventured on the hidden places of my own self is Elsa Park, main character of Folklorn.”– Excerpt from Moon’s Review on Goodreads
🌳 Family Focused
📕 Literary Fiction
🇰🇷 Korean Folklore
🪄 Magical Realism
✨ Rep in this book: Korean cast of characters
✨ Content warnings for this book: drowning, death of a parent, racism, domestic abuse, violence
I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Angela Mi Young Hur
Angela Hur received a BA in English Literature from Harvard and an MFA in Creative Writing from Notre Dame, where she won the Sparks Fellowship and the Sparks Prize, a post-graduate fellowship. Her debut The Queens of K-Town was published by MacAdam/Cage in 2007. It has been assigned in Korean-American literature classes at Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of British Columbia, and University of Seoul.
Hur has taught English Literature and Creative Writing at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, in Seoul, Korea. She’s also taught for Writopia, a U.S. non-profit providing creative writing workshops for children and teens. While living in Stockholm, Sweden, she’s worked as a Staff Editor for SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. She is currently living in Stockholm, with her husband and children. (Copied from the author’s personal website)