Y/N takes the reader on a Kafkaesque journey that bursts the bubble of contemporary parasocial fantasy into reality with annotations of generation Z and millennial quirks. This is Esther Yi’s debut novel. She was born in Los Angeles, California in 1989 and currently resides in Leipzig, Germany. The protagonist of Y/N shares a similar identity to Esther Yi, which of an American, Korean, and German jumbled belonging. Y/N stands for “Your Name,” not “Yes/No.” The title is also pronounced “why-en.” As the reader, your name is a placeholder in an online fanfiction instead of “Y/N.”
An unknown narrator who is the protagonist of the story is the writer of the “Y/N” fanfiction you are immersed in. The unknown narrator becomes obsessed with a Korean boy band group member named Moon. Just like the moon, Moon seems to have a gravitational pull to those around him. As the reader, you are immersed in the narrator’s plot, which includes close encounters with Moon. Perhaps the story becomes more about you rather than the narrator’s harrowing, love-stricken journey between Germany and South Korea to meet Moon. You the reader are plugged into this fanatic fanfiction putting you closer to the truth than the narrator can understand.
This novel sheds light on cultural disconnect through lost in translation moments. Generation Z and millennial aged people can either relate to the narrator’s nuanced cultural prowess or lack thereof, perhaps both. The narrator has problems communicating with others because of a language barrier between Korean, German, and English. This becomes significant in the novel as it highlights the narrator’s overall incompetence or lack of belonging, fitting her as someone without an appropriate group. Her multiple identities get skewed by the observer whom sees her as one or the other. For example, when she meets her Korean uncle when she arrives to South Korea to start her journey to find Moon, there are mistranslations of Korean and awkward communication between them. This scene highlights one of many isolating experiences the narrator faces, further blurring her sense of self tied to no specific category. The lack of labeling differs from the normalized perception of identity that we are aware of.
Esther Yi makes a dark observation on not just the cult-like community of Korean pop music fans, but also the reality of social media that this current generation thrives in. The narrator does not want to let go her favorite boy band even if there was an announcement that they retired. Her obsession for Moon leads her to hold on to an insane glimmer of hope to someday meet Moon despite the newsworthy boy band status. On her journey to find Moon, the narrator soon finds herself amongst other Moon fans that are as devoted as her. She seems to be shell-shocked about that. This bizarre behavior is actually common, although the dear narrator is more spellbound than the average person in reality. This is similar to reality were K-Pop fans form troupes to showcase their loyalty to K-Pop bands, commit to social media time with live streams or interacting through media posts, or make clear their devotion at sold-out concerts where they are moth to flame towards the group members. This phenomenon is an obsession, but appreciation of art at best. An online persona or presence is far from the truth than what we immediately perceive through media. It is not just the narrator who is disillusioned by Moon in media, but we all in some shape or form could easily be led on by what we see in the Internet of things. The novel portrays Korean pop music craze as a catalyst for transcendence of the harsh reality and truth. This novel pushes on the realm of transcendence further illuminating how we can easily let ourselves fraction towards something else that may seem whole.
The narrator is an average person in a civilized society. Her job is in dry copywriting, struggles in intimate relationships, and has frequent hiccups in communicating or relating to others. The only tangible solution to her ennui is obsessing over Moon. She makes it her goal to seek Moon, who in her eyes is the most perfect human being that she loves deeply even if Moon does not know that she exists. The narrator uses Moon as a way to transcend her immediate visceral and physical reality. It is hauntingly similar to following a religion or staying in a cult. The narrator has something she can dote on and she ultimately brainwashes herself into thinking that someone or something like Moon, the object of her affection, is far greater than her own sense of self. Is transcendence the only option to forgo seeming incompleteness of the self?
Esther Yi reads from her novel at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company on Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at 7:00 P.M. 1521 10th Ave. in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (206) 624-6600 or try elliottbaybook.com.