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[533] Please Look After Mom – Kyung-Sook Shin

mom

” Even if we say her situation made her think only about us, how could we thought of Mom as Mom her entire life? Even though I’m a mother, I have so many dreams of my own . . . So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning? She didn’t have the opportunity to pursue her dreams and, all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn’t do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely. ” (Epilogue, p.235)

Please Look After Mom begins with mom gone missing. The 69-year-old woman is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station. While the family begins a desperate search for Park So-Nyo, it becomes obvious that the novel is hardly a briskly moving investigation into a woman’s disappearance. Instead, told through the voices and perspectives of a daughter, a son, husband, and Mom herself, in second-personal “You” (takes a bit of getting used to), the novel offers more a reflective meditation on motherhood and a ruminative quest to confront the mysteries about Mom.

After your children’s mother went missing, you realized that it was your wife who was missing. Your wife, whom you’d forgotten about for fifty years, was present in your heart. Only after she disappeared did she come to you tangibly, as if you could reach out and touch her. (Part 3, p.131)

The narrative looks inward, examining Mom’s role and sacrifice to keep the family together, but all along overlooked until the crisis creates a fissure in the family’s lives. There’s the snappy novelist daughter who constantly gets under her mother’s skin, and gives her perfunctory calls. There’s the firstborn son for whom Mom sacrificed her own food. He could have picked up his parents instead indulged in a hot sauna. There’s the husband who is clueless of his wife’s charity work at an orphanage. When Mom fails to show up for volunteer work, the director pays a home visit—it’s then the husband finds out about his wife’s illiteracy. When the director asked her what she could do to thank her, Mom said there was nothing. But one day she brought in a book and asked her to read it to her for an hour each time.

You take your daughter’s book, To Complete Love. So your wife had wanted to read her daughter’s novel. Your wife had never told you as much. You had never even thought of reading your wife your daughter’s books. Does anyone else in the family know that your wife can’t read? (Part 3, p.129)

Wrought with memories of the missing woman, Shin’s prose is thoughtful, beautiful, but also reproachful. A melancholic regret reigns over the pages. As the facts of Park So-Nyo’s story emerge, we see a woman struggling against poverty, keeping four hungry mouths fed, suffering infidelity and preserving traditions. She belongs to that generation when women had to give up everything to protect their families. She also stand for values no longer cherished. The saddest thing about this book is that Shin nails the split between cultures of the future and those of the past, even within one country. Until mom had gone missing physically, she’s been lost to her children spiritually.

254 pp. Vintage Contemporaries. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

7 Responses

  1. This was on my To-Read list last year and I never got to it. Your review reminded me how much I want to read it. Sounds like a fascinating book.

    • She is a great writer, very keen and observant on human emotions. The style of the book, which is a bit of a flashback, takes a while to get used to. Interesting she is a popular fiction writer in South Korea, I find her writing very lyrical and literary.

  2. I thought that this book was quite unusual, and very well worth reading. You’re right about the melancholy, and the cultural shift that is expressed so poignantly.

    • Cultural shift has invaded every culture. It’s not about the difference between cultures and ethnicity, but across the different generations. The new generations have forgotten about mom. They don’t know how to communicate with mom and they are living in a different planet.

  3. This is one of Barnes and Noble’s Discover New Writers books! I can’t wait to read it.

  4. […] it’s about history of Second World War in Burma. Another that comes in mind is Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. The book is about the selfish family of Park So-nyo, a woman who got lost in […]

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