Read an ARC from the publisher
Content warning: parental death, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, hate crimes, discrimination
Physicist Elsa Park returns from a research trip to Antarctica when she founds out that her catatonic mother had died. All Elsa has left of her is a collection of stories and an uncanny ghost who follows her around. Then begins a search for discovery as Elsa reconnects with the stories she inherited from her mother and what it means for the rest of her adult life. There’s physics, there’s ghosts.
Hypnotic in its exploration of mythology, culture, and family, this literary contemporary fantasy shows how family and mythology have lines that might not at all be clearly defined.
My favorite part of this book had to be Elsa’s relationship with her older brother, Chris. It’s so complicated and messy. Through their interactions, Hur showcases not only immigrant families, but choices parents make and the very different relationships siblings can have with them. And their bond isn’t all the way cordial, but there is much respect and understanding between them.
I could talk forever about Oskar Gantelius. The way Hur presents his experience of being Korean in Sweden and the adjacent ways he relates to Elsa felt so organic, especially as their relationship develops and he shows this kindness in helping Elsa make sense of the stories she inherited. But I think the tension between Elsa and the ghostly woman with the red ribbon captivated me the most. One of the many mysteries is how she got there and who she is, and the reader follows Elsa on this beautiful, heart-wrenching journey.
The integration of Korean folklore both as lens and as plot worked so well. It’s what makes this work so fascinating, in addition to the way this framing connects with the past and the present. Sometimes those lines blur altogether. These stories act as a character of their own. It’s unclear whether they want to cooperate with Elsa or serve the role of antagonist, but I think the mystery of it all is what drives this story forward.
This book is such an accomplishment in terms of exploring family, identity, and much more. Come for the ghosts and folk tales, stay for the feels.