REVIEW by Willard Manus
of Korean writer Ha Seong-Nan is not a pretty place. In her new collection
of stories, BLUEBEARD'S FIRST WIFE, bad things happen to good people,
especially those who take up residence in unfamiliar places, where they
are treated with suspicion and dislike by the locals.
In "Night Poaching" a young detective arrives in a rural town
whose most skilled deer-hunter, Kim Jimseong, was found dead, the victim
of a shotgun blast. The detective's orders were not to try and find the
perpetrator, only to determine whether the cause of death was suicide,
homicide, or accident. When he starts asking questions the locals reject
and scorn him. He comes to realize that they fear his investigation will
uncover their involvement in the illegal (but lucrative) poaching trade.
It doesn't take long for them to turn on him, in sinister and violent
In the titular story, "Bluebeard's First Wife," a 30-year-old
pharmacist marries a ne'er-do-well grad student named Jason (Korean name,
Hyogyeong), who takes her off to New Zealand to live. She does her best
to adjust to that foreign clime and make a happy home, only to discover
a shocking secret about Jason that poisons their relationship and results
in abuse and bloodshed.
It goes like that in the other nine stories in the collection, all of
which catch you up in Ha Seong-Nan's unique, steely, irresistible spell.
the deft translation is by Janet Hong)