The Impossible Fairytale

By Han Yujoo / Tr. by Janet Hong

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The Impossible Fairytale – paperback
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Winner of a pen heim award

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 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. 

The Impossible Fairytale is published by Graywolf Press in North America and co-published by Tilted Axis and Brow Books in Australia and New Zealand.


'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.'

'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

'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.'
— BuzzFeed

'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

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

'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

'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

'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 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

‘A haunting, spellbinding tale about violent obsession and the immense and frightening force of an unquiet conscience.’
— Sara Baume

‘Is this a horror story or a memoir, a work of theory or a riddle? No doubt about it, Han Yujoo is a brave and intelligent writer.’ 
— Lara Pawson



  • ISBNs: 9781911284093 (print) / 9781911284086 (ebook)

  • Publication date: 5 May 2017

  • Extent: 352pp

  • Format: B-format paperback (198mm × 127mm)

  • Rights held: UK, Ireland, Europe