by Heinz Insu Fenkl
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Pub Date 07 Feb 2023 | Archive Date 15 Jan 2023
Set in South Korea in the 1950s and 1970s, a haunting inter-generational coming-of-age novel about identity and displacement. Skull Water is a coming-of-age story set in South Korea about Insu, the son of a Korean mother and a GI father in the U.S. Army, and the intertwined tale of his Korean Big Uncle, who has been exiled to a mountain cave near the family village to die from a gangrenous foot. Growing up near the army base in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Insu and his two best friends, also “half and halfs,” spend their days skipping school, selling scavenged Western goods on the black market, and testing the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. When Insu hears an old legend that water collected from a dead person’s skull will cure any sickness, he vows to collect some in order to heal Big Uncle’s mysterious injury—a quest that takes him and his friends on a sprawling journey into some of South Korea’s darkest corners. Meanwhile, Big Uncle, a geomancer who was uprooted by the Korean War, has embraced his solitude and fate and attempts to teach his nephew that life is not limited to what we can see or what we think we know. As Insu becomes increasingly drawn to his family lore, Korean folktales, and Buddhist spiritual teachings, South Korea itself is changing—rapidly transforming into a more modern Western country. In this sweeping tale of displacement and identity, Skull Water explores questions surrounding family, loyalty, and history, and the ways in which our past continues to haunt our present.
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