Book Review: Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur

This is one of the best books that I’ve read this year hands down. I absolutely recommend it with all of my heart!

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A genre-bending story that captures the diaspora experience with a beautiful touch of magical realism

At a glance: Elsa has spent her whole life and career running away from her family’s folktales toward the rigidity of science. But after an accident, she realizes that it isn’t so easy to run away from your heritage.

  • 📖 Couldn’t Put It Down
  • 😭 Emotional
  • 🌳 Family Focused
  • 🔮 Magical Realism

Read this if… you are a member of the Asian diaspora, or if you want to understand the Asian diaspora experience better, if you want to feel connected to your family heritage and stories.

Book Review

painful, grief-filled, magical, accepting, validating, beautiful, emotional, stunning

Folklorn was just way more personal to me than I anticipated it to be. It was…. incredibly surprising how close to home it felt. Elsa grew up near me, and I grew up where her Swedish home’s people often emigrate to. I even almost ran to physics as well. Incredibly precise, and almost impossible for me to not rate this so highly. Angela Mi Young Hur was speaking directly to me!

Quick Summary: Folklorn follows a Korean-American physicist, running away from the culture and folktales of her family and grounding herself in the solid concrete nature of science. Only to find out that you can’t escape your history, and science reflects our lives more than we think.

I honestly don’t even know how to review this book. It was beautiful, challenging, eye-opening. The integration of physics to ground Elsa, and to ground me, with the magical exploration of long-told and oft-lost folktales was stunning. Elsa’s search for herself pushed me to also search for myself within the pages, only to find myself just about as well as she did, in a constant journey.

Every little bit of this book is important, and I felt I couldn’t miss anything. From the mention of permanent makeup, especially eyebrows, to communities of immigrants giving each other loans to buy houses and start businesses. Small moments giving us a glimpse into these important, beautiful, communities. Seeing how people are able to band together and grow together by helping each other out in these communities really highlights the importance of the communities we build. All the way down to the moment where we realize that those of us of the diaspora have full right to the stories of our ancestors. It is all deeply important.

Anyway, I feel that I can’t put into words how this book felt so close to me so I will just say: go read it. It’s wonderful.

Summing it all up

Read Folklorn It is important. It is beautiful and wonderful. It is the first book to make me feel like I can claim Asian American for myself. I absolutely applaud what Angela Mi Young Hur was able to accomplish here.

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Book Club Questions: Folklorn

  • Discuss the dichotomy of the folktales of Elsa’s mother and the rigidity of science. How did they compliment each other?
  • At what point did Elsa’s experience feel the most real to you? Can anyone who has ever moved to a new place relate in any way?
  • How did the inclusion of Oskar’s character, as a transracial adoptee, compliment Elsa’s experience of a Korean American in Sweden? How did their experiences differ? How were they the same?

About the Author

Angela Hur received a B.A. 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 Asian-American literature classes at Stanford, UC Berkeley, University of British Columbia, and University of Seoul.

Folklorn was chosen by Kelly Link for a Tin House novel mentorship through the Tin House Summer Workshop, where Hur also studied with Alexander Chee and Mat Johnson, and later with Peter Ho Davies at the Napa Valley Writers Conference.

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.

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Want More Diverse Book Recommendations?

Check out the rest of my blog! I’m dedicated to sharing books with you that include diversity, so feel comfortable that any books on Bookish Brews will include some diversity.

If you liked this review or thought you might like this book, check out some of my other reviews for books with similar books that explore identity:

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This book sounds so important, I definitely need to read it now!

I received this ARC for free and am leaving this review voluntarily

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