BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Bluebeard’s First Wife: Stories by Ha Seong-nan, translated by Janet Hong [in Booklist]

Bestselling Korean author Ha Seong-nan and award-winning Canadian translator Janet Hong are two-for-two at spectacular pairing, repeating the successful partnership of Ha’s collection, Flowers of Mold (2019), with another sensational, 11-story collaboration. The titular “Bluebeard’s First Wife” features a 31-year-old woman who marries a younger man (under pressure) and follows him to New Zealand to live more alone than not – until she can’t. Deception repeats in other standouts: a Seoul policeman’s transfer to a remote post gets him trapped in a relationship that never happened in “Flies”; a favorite daughter discovers her father’s other family in “O Father”; a woman meets longtime friends she never knew her fiancé had and learns of their disturbing shared past in “Joy to the World.”

Violence looms in “The Star-Shaped Stain,” “Night Poaching” is about what’s really being hunted in dark woods, “Dress Shirt” involves a mysterious suicide, “Pinky Finger” dramatizes the perils of taking late-night taxis alone, and in “Daisy Fleabane,” a teen narrates her own death. City escapes prove disastrous in “On That Green, Green Grass” when a dognapping begets a kidnapping, and “A Quiet Night” reveals calamities that befall loud upstairs neighbors.

Despite a significant body count, Ha’s provocative narratives never devolve into the maudlin, showcasing instead sly moments of macabre fascination and startling dark comedy.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, May 15, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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