In Y/N (Astra House, Mar.), an American woman living in Berlin becomes obsessed with a K-pop star named Moon.
What was your inspiration for Y/N?
In late 2017, while on a bus from New York City to Providence, I decided that I would write a novel about a woman obsessed with a K-pop star. The reason why it appealed to me was because it sounded blissfully stupid, the idea of someone being obsessed with a celebrity.
And yet the book is quite complex.
My narrator is an obsessive fan, but at heart she’s an intellectual who has a refined, and even pretentious, appreciation of Moon. She’s not supposed to be a fan. The object of her devotion is supposedly low culture, anti-intellectual, but she’s arriving at her deepest ideas about art, about freedom, through this devotion.
What is it about K-pop that takes such a powerful hold on your narrator?
K-pop and fandom are very fraught arenas. K-pop is a symbol that, in my opinion, traffics in displaced spirituality. Stars are called “idols.” There are very few things in an average person’s life that one would call their idol. My narrator has no outlet for her enormous capacity for devotion. She doesn’t go to church, she can’t fight for a country, she can’t lose herself to sexual passion, she can’t embark on a great work of art. So what does she turn to? She turns to K-pop. That’s how I view her obsession. It’s not just a delusional exercise. To me, it’s a natural consequence of the sort of conditions under which she’s living.
Did your own experiences as a Korean American woman living in Germany influence Y/N?
What I share with my narrator is the fact that we’re at odds with our own identities. The longest I’ve lived in one place was five years, and that was when I was born in Los Angeles. My family moved all over and when I was 24, I left the U.S. for Berlin and I’ve been living abroad since then. The sum of my lived experiences has made me question the kind of symbolic import people apply to the term Korean American, especially right now in this hyper-politicized time. When I write, I represent no nationality, no country, no race, no social class. This is why I personally don’t call myself an Asian American writer or a Korean American female writer. For me, I’m just simply a writer.