Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-nan, translated by Janet Hong [in Booklist]
Joining a growing cohort of notable Korean imports, Ha Seong-nan’s dazzling, vaguely intertwined collection of 10 stories is poised for Western acclaim. In “Flowers of Doom,” a loner painstakingly studies his neighbors by sifting through their trash – “Garbage never lies” – eventually deciphering the affair that implodes next door in number 507. That same 507 appears in “The Woman Next Door,” in which a new neighbor moves in; she’s single, friendly, and first borrows a spatula from the wife of the family next door, then quickly manipulates possession of the husband and son.
Agitated tenants hope to prevent the owner from selling their building in “The Retreat,” but the evening ends in murder. Violence also drives “Nightmare,” in which desperate parents try to convince their daughter that an assault upon her was “all a nightmare.” An unlikely relationship between a security guard and a shoplifting magician ends tragically in “Your Rearview Mirror.” Women gracing billboards come alive in “Flag” and “Toothpaste.”
Like Ha’s compatriots Han Yujoo (The Impossible Fairy Tale, 2017) and Ancco (Bad Friends, 2018), PEN/Heim Translation Fund-awarded Janet Hong enables English-language readers access into Ha’s disturbing, unpredictable, oneiric – yet all too recognizable – world in which heat stifles, waste rots, and bonds break; yet, for most, life goes on.