Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim
The basics: Kyong-Sook Shin is a famous Korean writer who has won several awards internationally. Please Look After Mom is her first book to be translated into English. It tells the story of a mother who goes missing one afternoon in a crowded Seoul subway station. The story is told in the voices of her children and husband as they search for her, remember her and face their regrets.
My thoughts: Please Look After Mom opens in a somewhat bracing way. The reader is addressed as "you," which is jarring, but in a good way. Still, I scrambled for a few pages to get my bearings in the scene, the country, the family, and the character. As the novel moved into different sections, the narrator's language shifted to first-person. It was an interesting narrative tool, and I appreciated the boldness of Shin to force the reader to figure out which characters was now telling his or her story. There was no road map to this novel, just as mother had no road map when she got lost.
I can't recall reading any other books set in Seoul, and I enjoyed this glimpse into the customs of the city and its surrounding country. Mostly, however, I enjoyed the story of the first narrator, the famous Korean novelist daughter. I was thrilled to meet her first, as I cheered when she reappeared during other narratives. Her story was incredibly moving, and I found myself easily relating to her life.
Please Look After Mom flowed seamlessly in each section between memories and the present. At times it read almost like a thriller. It was easy to get caught up in the search for mom until you realize it's just as interesting to see and understand mom through the different views of her family.
Favorite passage: "Most things in the world are not unexpected if one thinks carefully about them."
The verdict: Please Look After Mom is a haunting and deceivingly simple novel about family and regret that questions how well we really ever know one another. It's a shame more of Kyung-Sook Shin's work hasn't been translated into English, but I hope more will be.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 256 pages
Publication date: April 5, 2011
Source: I checked it out from the library
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