“Flowers of Mold” by Ha Seong-Nan is strangely mesmerizing

Flowers of Mold” is a strange collection of Korean short stories published this year by Ha Seong-Nan. With a total of ten stories, Seong-Nan unveils a foreign world where unnerving events seem to happen at every corner.

Ha Seong-Nan

There’s a story where a landlord decides to raise the rent and his five tenants plan on killing him at the yearly retreat. A gymnast cannot perform her sport anymore because she grows too tall. A girl is sexually assaulted in her home by one of the men who work on her father’s farm. And in the title story, we are introduced to a man who goes through his neighbors’ garbage to get a better understanding of people so he can relate to them more.

It’s no doubt that these stories aim to be creepy underneath the pretty-like writing. This is why I enjoyed the title “Flowers of Mold” so much. It fit in perfectly with the world Seong-Nan created for her readers.

The one thing that negatively affected my reading was the sentence structure. The work was translated from Korean to English by Janet Hong. The translation affected the sentences flow, and while this isn’t fully the writer’s fault, it still affected my reading of the stories. Also the stories moved slow at times and could have been tightened more.

“Joining a growing cohort of notable Korean imports, Ha’s dazzling, vaguely intertwined collection of 10 stories is poised for Western acclaim.” 

Booklist, starred review

This isn’t to say that readers shouldn’t give this new work by Seong-Nan a chance. The plots, characters, and stories themselves are intriguing. Plus, I still finished the entire book. I still believe it’s fair to say that your reading might be affected by structure.

Some stories are better than others. There were some stories where I didn’t understand what the writer was trying to get at. It’s possible that this was my fault, but there were times when I wish the text was more clear.

The characters introduced in this work are as captivating as they are weird. It seems as though no one is normal and everyone cannot be trusted. There’s a story where a woman moves in next door to a distant family and she befriends the wife. As they grow closer, the wife begins to lose her memory and goes slightly insane while the new neighbor gets closer to her husband and son. It was eerily creepy because it felt real.

Ha Seong-Nan poured her talent into “Flowers of Mold”, and I cannot wait to read her next work. I have a thing for creepy literary fiction and this was right down my alley.

Rating: 3.8/5

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