Helen Oyeyemi on Her Favorite Books and TV Shows
"Not saying it felt like Louisa May Alcott hated me, but maybe that is what I'm saying."
Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel, Gingerbread, is now available from Riverhead Books.
Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
I have to give thanks to the writers and entire teams behind two of the K-dramas that aired while I was in Seoul writing Gingerbread. There they were at the end of a day’s writing . . . episodes conceived by Park Ji Eun, with her gorgeous semiotic riot of a mermaid tale, The Legend of the Blue Sea, and Kim Eun Sook, who wrote Goblin. Goblin did a number of sustaining and bothersome things to my heart and brain. I still shout with laughter when I remember favorite scenes from what I can only call the bromantical frenenmity between the Goblin and the Grim Reaper. But also, thinking of certain other scenes—the symbols and elements involved—snow, tears, candle flame, words, glances—those combine in ways that arrest my sense of narrative altogether.
Who do you most wish would read your book?
Park Ji Eun, Kim Eun Sook (please see answer re: TV dramas) or the Hong Sisters!
What was the first book you fell in love with?
It was Little Women. A sad love. The combination of events I couldn’t handle (Beth not surviving, Jo and Laurie not falling passionately in love) began to feel like a personal challenge to reject the reality of the story at the same time as somehow accepting its truth . . . oh, I’m not saying that it felt like Louisa May Alcott hated me, but maybe that actually is what I’m saying?
Which book(s) do you return to again and again?
Alice in Wonderland. It all makes more and more (non)sense the older I get—the trickiness regarding being able to say what you mean and vice versa, and the material consequences of that. Plus Kenneth Gross, author of Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life, The Dream of the Moving Statue and other feasts of thought, is at work on a book about dangerous children in literature, and he’s currently looking, thinking and writing about Alice—it’s such a treat to revisit the story in snippets of conversation with him.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Yes—Vítešzlav Nezval’s Prague In Fingers of Rain (1971), translated by Ewald Osers. Only Nezval had brilliance and dash enough to come up with this particular book of love letters to the city of my dreams. I especially envy these lines:
like berets hurled into the air
berets of boys, cocottes and cardinals…
…yet also like a town of umbrellas opened skyward as a shield
all this is prague