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Skull Water

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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.

390 pages. Paperback.

About the Author

Heinz Insu Fenkl was born in Bupyeong and grew up in Korea, and later in Germany and the United States. His autobiographical novel Memories of My Ghost Brother was named a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist and a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” selection. His fiction and translations have been published in The New Yorker. A member of the editorial board for Harvard University’s AZALEA: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture from its inception until 2017, he is also the translator of the classic 17th-century Korean Buddhist novel The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-jung published by Penguin Classics.

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