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Arts + CultureLitA K-pop obsession twists into a surreal mission in...

A K-pop obsession twists into a surreal mission in ‘Y/N’

Esther Yi's fascinating novel explores the lengths of devotion and delusion through fan fiction and music.

Esher Yi decided to write her debut novel about a woman’s obsession with a K-pop star because, in her words, “it sounded blissfully stupid, the idea of someone being obsessed with a celebrity.” Indeed, it’s funny to tell people that you’re reading a novel about such a topic, and funnier still to tell them the title—Y/N—which some might recognize as an oft-derided genre of fan fiction, in which Y/N (“Your Name”) interacts with celebrities or famous fictional characters.

Let the record show that Y/N (Astra House, 224 pages) is not a work of self-insert fan fiction, nor is it—as some might assume—a facile critique of fan culture or parasocial relationships. Y/N is a funny and deeply original meditation on love, devotion, and spirituality, and one need not be familiar with the world of K-pop fandoms to enjoy Yi’s brilliant prose.

The novel’s unnamed narrator is a Korean American woman living in Berlin. Initially repulsed by K-pop, she attends a Korean boy band’s concert with her roommate and falls under the spell of a performer named Moon, whose performance transforms her instantly from a cynic into a devotee.

Esther Yi photo by Sharon Choi

Her obsession with Moon quickly takes over her life. She fixates on Moon’s livestreams, ignores her boss’s calls, and fantasizes about her real-life boyfriend having sex with Moon instead of with her. The novel becomes interspersed with the Y/N fan fiction she writes about herself and Moon. When Moon retires unexpectedly from his boy band, she travels to Seoul and embarks on a surreal mission to track him down.

Yi has stated that she believes K-pop “traffics in displaced spirituality.” Likewise, the narrator loves Moon because she is desperate for someone to worship. In most self-insert fan fiction, an ordinary fan manages to secure the affections of an otherwise unattainable celebrity. But the narrator’s fan fiction charts an opposite path: Y/N and Moon are already a couple before Y/N orchestrates Moon’s rise to fame so that she can become his fan. Only when she “encounter[s] him through the gigantic dimensions of collective adoration… will her love be properly sized.”

Like Moon’s dance moves, Yi’s sentences are nimble and impossible to predict but somehow land with a feeling of perfect necessity—a prose style that deftly captures the narrator’s strange, winding interiority. For instance, when the narrator sees that her boyfriend has built an uneven table, she thinks: “Our future dinners would go crashing to the floor; I hoped this meant he wanted to starve me so that there was less of me for others to have.”

The narrator wants a love that is grand enough to require suffering and sacrifice, and her articulations of this desire are startling and unforgettable. Y/N is a book that demands to be read and reread; Yi has certainly made a fan out of me.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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