cover image Bluebeard’s First Wife

Bluebeard’s First Wife

Ha Seong-nan, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paperback (230p) ISBN 978-1-948830-17-1

Ha’s outstanding collection (after Flowers of Mold) delivers heavy doses of guilt, hope, and pain. The opener, “The Star-Shaped Stain,” follows a young mother a year after her kindergartner daughter died in a fire along with her 21 classmates while on a school trip. When the woman visits the site two months later with other grieving parents, their wounds are made raw by a drunk storekeeper who claims to have seen a child running away from the burning building. In straightforward prose, Ha’s simple, devastating tale sets the mood for what’s to come. The title story brilliantly explores the secrets and silence inside the microcosm of an opportunistic marriage, as Ha flips the switch from ordinary domestic descriptions to harrowing violence, the tone perfectly measured in Hong’s translation. Other highlights include “Joy to the World,” in which a mysterious pregnancy devastates a couple on the verge of marriage; “On That Green, Green Grass,” an exploration of obsession wrapped in the enigmatic theft of a family’s dog; and “A Quiet Night,” in which a couple deals with noisy upstairs neighbors until the woman starts suspecting her husband is behind the neighbors’ run of misfortune. Dark, strange, and simultaneously cohesive and diverse, these stories show a superb writer in full force. (June)