Folklorn is a dizzying and evocative new novel from author Angela Mi Young Hur, featuring a haunting piece of speculative fiction at once candid and whimsical. The storytelling in Folklorn demands your attention to fully appreciate the plot and narrative, which centers around ostensibly schizophrenic (is she or isn’t she?) Elsa Park, whose own fractured identity collides with a world of Korean folklore and family secrets.
Throughout the story, there’s one deceptively simple question in the air: Is there any truth to Elsa’s mother’s ravings? The unraveling of this mystery is a slow burn, propped up by and bookended with beguiling bits of ancestral lore in all its prose and grotesquely cautionary proclamation. Also, Elsa’s got an imaginary friend that nobody else can see. And yes, she talks to her imaginary friend.
The narration is plump with raw, honest emotion, and she is seriously one helluva relatable oddball. In a never ending protest against the “model minority” stereotype she’s been forever typecast in, she’s aggressively snarky and viscerally resistant to appearing vulnerable, throwing out such phrases as “Let’s skål, motherf—–.” With her ironically self-deprecating ways, her character is equally fascinating and maddening.
We see just how deep Elsa’s scars go—and they go way far beyond superficial reactions, founded in something endemic to her family’s immigrant experience. The story slips in and out of varying states of consciousness, it seems, all the while mirroring Elsa’s tenuous hold on her reality. Through the book, Elsa meanders through a thrilling, tantalizing landscape that touches madness, and in the moments where Elsa appears to be just barely treading water, the weight of her despair, coupled with the burden of both myth and history, takes center stage, pulling the reader down with her.
Folklorn spun me around and around, making me feel as increasingly unhinged as Elsa appeared to be. One drunk scene with her love interest Oskar reads like a fever dream, one where you’re self-aware, but actually, are you? In relating her story, Elsa is a study in that blurry but ever-present line between genuine authenticity and contrivance according to situational norms.
All in all, Folklorn is poignant AF, as well as maddeningly atmospheric— at times creepy, even. I was continuously intrigued by the plot, but this was a stressful read: a telling tale of familial ties, mental illness, and the generational effects of being part of a wartorn diaspora.
I recommend Folklorn to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, psychological suspense, and cerebral reads— particularly those that offer an #OwnVoices point of view. You may also enjoy this book if you’re into themes with elements of fable, myth, and folklore.
content warning: scenes describing incidents of domestic violence, depictions of mental illness
Thank you to Erewhon and Netgalley for the digital advanced reader’s copy.
Where to find Folklorn
Publication Date: April 27, 2021
- Bookshop.org – support independent book stores!
- Barnes and Noble