Flowers of Mold & Other Stories

Flowers of Mold & Other Stories

Paperback(Translatio)

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Overview

On the surface, Ha Seong-nan’s stories seem pleasant enough, yet there’s something disturbing just below the surface, ready to permanently disrupt the characters’ lives.

A woman meets her next-door neighbor and loans her a spatula, then starts suffering horrific gaps in her memory. A man, feeling jilted by an unrequited love, becomes obsessed with sorting through his neighbors’ garbage in the belief that it will teach him how to better relate to people. A landlord decides to raise the rent, and his tenants hatch a plan to kill him at a team-building retreat.

In ten captivating, unnerving stories, Flowers of Mold presents a range of ordinary individuals—male and female, young and old—who have found themselves left behind by an increasingly urbanized and fragmented world. The latest in the trend of brilliant female Korean authors to appear in English, Ha cuts like a surgeon, and even the most mundane objects become menacing and unfamiliar under her scalpel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940953960
Publisher: Open Letter
Publication date: 04/23/2019
Edition description: Translatio
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 305,969
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ha Seong-Nan was born in Seoul in 1967 and made her literary debut in 1996, after her graduation from the Seoul Institute of the Arts. She is the author of five short story collections—including Bluebeard's First Wife and The Woman Next Door —and three novels. Over her career, she's received a number of prestigious awards, such as the Dongin Literature Award in 1999, Hankook Ilbo Literature Prize in 2000, the Isu Literature Prize in 2004, the Oh Yeong-su Literary Award in 2008, and the
Contemporary Literature (Hyundae Munhak) Award in 2009.

Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work has appeared in Brick: A Literary Journal, Lit Hub, Asia Literary Review, Words Without Borders, and the Korea Times. She has received PEN American Center’s PEN/Heim Translation Fund, the Modern Korean Literature Translation Award, and grants from English PEN, LTI Korea, and the Daesan Foundation. Her translations include Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale , Ancco’s Bad Friends , and Ha Seong-nan’s Flowers of Mold. She also translates works by Bae Suah and Kim Soom, among others.

Read an Excerpt

"The Woman Next Door"

A new neighbor’s moved into number 507. I’d just taken out the spun laundry and was about to hang it on the clothesline. The washer is junk now. Whenever it goes from rinse to spin, it gives a terrible groan and shudders, as if it might explode any second. Over the years, it’s retreated about twenty centimeters from its original spot. Since it’s done nothing except wash, rinse and spin for ten years, no wonder it’s in bad shape. I pat the top of the washer and mutter, “Yeongmi, I know you’re tired, but let’s get through it one last time.” The washer wrings out the water and barely sounds its end-of-cycle buzzer.

Yeongmi is the name I’ve given the washer. It doesn’t get used a whole lot anymore, but it’s also my name. To a washing machine, the motor is the same as a heart. A repairman who once came to fix the washer said so. He’d said the motor’s life had reached its limit. It managed to finish its job today, but I don’t know how long I can keep it going like this.

Once my husband had caught me talking to the washer. Seeing nobody else on the balcony, he’d asked, “What are you doing?” So I’d played dumb and said, “What does it look like? I’m doing the laundry.” How can a banker who has to calculate sums down to the penny understand? If I’d told him the truth, he would have thought I was crazy. According to him, my head’s stuck in the clouds. That’s why I’m always floating around in space, never touching solid ground. If he knew I’d gone so far as to give the washing machine a name, he’d probably faint. “So it’s finally happened—an error’s occurred in your software.” Eight years ago, I worked at a bank too. Back then I never thought I’d be talking to a washing machine one day. It’s not that I have anything against my husband. It’s good for a banker to be like a banker, isn’t it?

The soy sauce stain on my child’s shirt didn’t come out. I forgot to soak it beforehand, that’s why. When I sort what can be hung from what has to be re-washed, only one of my husband’s dress shirts makes it to the clothesline. My husband says things that show how much he doesn’t understand: “The washing machine does the laundry and the rice cooker cooks the rice, so what do you do all day?”

A mover’s ladder hoist is lifting furniture up to the fifth floor. There isn’t much. After all, you don’t need a whole lot to fill an 800-square-foot apartment. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not the type to snoop around. But is it a crime to look? It’s not like I’m spying on people with binoculars. All the furniture looks new. I can’t stand shabby old things with peeling paint. The person who used to live in 507 brought his cockroaches with him when he first moved in, and soon even our home became infested. It’s natural for any woman who’s been married a decade to eye new appliances, especially when her own are getting old and scratched up.

The furniture may be new, but it’s not for newlyweds, that’s for sure. One look at the bed says it all. The mattress is standing on its side, but you could easily tell it’s a single. This resident, obviously alone with these new things—who could it be? Most of the appliances are the latest models: a washer with a transparent lid, an immaculate gas range, not once lit. My gas range, which has to have its switch pressed several times before it lights up, can’t hold a candle to that. Who is this person? If my husband were here, he’d say something for sure, like how I’m turning nosy because I’ve got too much time on my hands.

*

“Hello.”

Right away I know she’s the new person in 507. She looks around twenty-eight. Or does she look closer to thirty-four? Don’t they say it’s hard to guess a woman’s age these days? She has a large plastic bag in each hand. The bags are from the department store two bus stops away. They look heavy—the plastic handles dig into her hands, creating purple welts. I’m in the middle of carrying my son’s bike up to the fifth floor, which is also the top floor. Our apartment complex doesn’t have bicycle racks, because it was built back when I was in high school. Rumors of redevelopment have been floating around for the past ten years, but still, nothing. But my husband keeps insisting this apartment is a valuable investment. Since it was built so long ago, trying to find parking around here is madness. So if they were to make room for bicycle racks, about two parking stalls would have to go. For that reason, racks are out of the question. If I don’t want my son’s bike to get stolen, I have to carry it all the way up every time. It weighs at least twenty kilograms, more than my six-year-old son. He’d said he wanted to ride the bike, but he’s already lost interest, and has been whining for a pair of rollerblades for the past few days. But you can’t just go buy anything a child asks for. You shouldn’t spoil your kids. This is the only issue my husband and I see eye to eye. I have to sling the seat over my shoulder to carry the bike, but by the time I reach the second floor, my shoulder is stiff and sore. Then it’s only curses and frustration that spur me up to the fifth floor.

The woman probably came up behind me as I was dragging myself up. She wouldn’t have been able to pass me because of the bicycle, but she doesn’t look a bit annoyed. And then to have the patience to greet me, with her heavy bags and all—now isn’t that something? All I can do is bow awkwardly, hunched over with the bicycle. Cleaning products like scouring pads, rubber gloves, and a box of powder detergent poke out from the bags. She opens her door while I’m chaining the bike to the stair railing and calls out, “Jal butak deuleo yo.”

It’s a rare thing to hear these days. I mean, isn’t this something a new employee would say to her superior on her first day? But I’m not her boss, her elder, or even her landlord. I’m just her neighbor.

“You know, there’s a supermarket nearby with cheaper, better selection…” This is what I offer as a friendly greeting.

Jal butak deuleo yo. Soon enough, I would grasp the full meaning of these words.

My husband stops undoing his necktie and worries once again. He says my reckless trust for strangers is as dangerous as a child alone by the water. He wasn’t always like this. The bank he works for merged with another bank and as a result, many employees were laid off. He didn’t lose his job, thank God, but he compared that uncertain period to the torture of hanging from an iron bar, trying not to fall. The generations that had to take mandatory P.E. exams in school know well the agony of doing chin-ups or hanging from a bar for a long time. The anxiety from those several months left a coin-sized bald spot on the crown of his head.

“A woman living on her own at that age—isn’t it obvious?”

My husband seems uneasy about the fact she lives alone.

“You’d know what I mean if you saw her. She seems very down-to-earth. People like that are so rare these days.”

I’ve said things like this before. But he’s turned out to be right every time. Triumphant, my husband would then reproach me: “How can you be such a poor judge of character?”

“What does she do anyway?”

Obviously I don’t know a thing about her. While I set the dinner table, the words he spits out from the bathroom pierce my back like darts.

“You better not lend her any money.”

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