The child of Korean immigrants, Angela Mi Young Hur grew up reading and listening to Korean folk tales. “I devoured them growing up,” she said. “It was my gateway to the fantastical, the mythic.”
They stuck with her into adulthood, when she began to plan the novel that would become “Folklorn.” Published last week, the book centers on Elsa, a Korean American scientist who finds herself literally haunted by images and characters from the folk tales she grew up with.
“I started looking around at the books I admire and they were the ones that played with genre,” Hur said. “The idea came pretty quickly about literalizing the metaphor — about the inheritance of culture and being trapped by whatever roles are forced on us and trying to figure out our identity.”
Making Elsa a scientist, Hur added, owed to her Swedish husband’s career. He’s a physicist who has worked in Antarctica, where the book opens. “I did the research first. And then I would discuss it with my husband,” Hur said. “He would proof my science passages to make sure it wasn’t egregiously wrong.”
For Hur, who now lives in Sweden with her family, many of her experiences have come full circle, including sharing bedtime stories that impart Korean culture. “Now I’m an immigrant mom. And I tell some of these stories to my daughter,” she said. “It gives her a sense of pride and connection.”
As for the new book, Hur added that she hopes it subverts assumptions. “I think my book has surprised a lot of early readers, and I’m happy for that,” she said. “I hope to continue to broaden people’s expectations of Asian diaspora literature.”
Angela Mi Young Hur will read at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 4, with Kat Howard (”An Unkindness of Magicians”) in a virtual event hosted by Porter Square Books and 7 p.m. Thursday with Kelly Link (“Get in Trouble”) in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.