ebook ∣ A Novel
By Heinz Insu Fenkl
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A "magnificent" (Ha Jin) and "magical" (Marie Myung-Ok Lee) fever dream of a novel that interweaves the coming-of-age of a 1970s Korean-American boy grappling with his identity and the impact of intergenerational trauma
"A fascinating story of a young mixed-race man caught between two cultures, not knowing what to keep and what to leave behind."—James McBride, author of The Color of Water
Growing up outside a US military base in South Korea in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Insu—the son of a Korean mother and a German father enlisted in the US Army—spends his days with his "half and half" friends skipping school, selling scavenged Western goods on the black market, watching Hollywood movies, and testing the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. When he hears a legend that water collected in a human skull will cure any sickness, he vows to dig up a skull in order to heal his ailing Big Uncle, a geomancer who has been exiled by the family to a mountain cave to die.
Insu's quest takes him and his friends on a sprawling, wild journey into some of South Korea's darkest corners, opening them up to a fantastical world beyond their grasp. Meanwhile, Big Uncle has embraced his solitude and fate, trusting in otherworldly forces Insu cannot access. As he recalls his wartime experiences of betrayal and lost love, Big Uncle attempts to teach his nephew that life is not limited to what we can see—or think we know.
Largely autobiographical and sparkling with magical realism, Skull Water is the story of a boy coming into his own—and the ways the past haunts the present in a country on the cusp of modernity struggling to confront its troubled history. As Insu seeks the wisdom of his ancestors, what he learns, he hopes, will save not just his uncle but himself.