December 2020 Book Club Report: Ha Seong-nan’s Flowers of Mold

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December Translated Literature Book Club Meeting

On the last Saturday afternoon of 2020, we held our fifth book club meeting at Shake Shack along Neil Road to discuss Korean writer Ha Seong-nan’s Flowers of Mold, translated by Janet Hong. We’d originally planned to meet at the Grassroots Book Room, but we couldn’t get seats and Shake Shack was the only relatively empty place we could find in that vicinity on a cold, rainy afternoon.

Seated happily with our drinks after finally having had found a place for our meeting, the five of us dived right into the book. Written in 1999 and translated into English in 2019, Flowers of Mold was an intriguing read for most of us. 

We discussed how the change in the order of the short stories, as well as a completely new title, in the English translation could have affected our reception of the book. (“The Woman Next Door” was the first story in the original language, but “Waxed Wings” was the first in the English translation. The original novel was titled “The Woman Next Door”.)

Interestingly, most of us felt that the new English title and the new order of the stories made better sense for English readers. The new title seemed peculiar enough to draw readers’ attention, and beginning the book with “Waxed Wings” instead of “The Woman Next Door” provided an easier entry and a more gradual buildup into the short stories collection. 

Here are some of the other questions we discussed:

  • What are some of the overarching themes? (Rot, mold, heat, objectification of women, etc)
  • What does the short stories tell us about Ha Seong-nan?
  • What are the shortcomings of Ha’s writing?
  • How does the stories reflect the disconnect between urbanisation and the lived realities of the South Korean working class and minorities? 

January 2021 Book Club Selection 

We’ll be reading Arabic writer Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work, translated by Leri Price, on the last Saturday of January 2021. 

If you’d like to join us in January, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more details about our December meeting!

*Harriett Press’s Translated Literature Book Club is a monthly book club that meets to exchange thoughts on a translated book selected for the month. Anyone is welcome to join us!⁠ Find out more about book club meetings by following us on Facebook and Instagram!   

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