Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is an endearing and emotionally moving story on a subject none of us would like to have happen - the disappearance of a loved one; in this case the mother of the family. While on their way to visit to Seoul to visit with their children, 69 year-old So-nyo gets separated from her husband at a Seoul subway station. One minute she is behind him getting on a crowded train, but once the train doors close, the husband looks around and realizes his wife is not with him. Going back to the station, expecting to see So-nyo patiently waiting for him, she is nowhere to be found. Her selfish children are consumed with grief and guilt, but move into action to find their missing mother. As they argue over the text for the "Missing" flyers they will paste all over town, the strategy of placing ads in the newspaper, how much is an appropriate reward, they realize that none of them have a recent photo of their mom, but only an old formal picture that vaguely resembles their mom. As they follow-up all leads, and as each examines their relationship with mom, a far more important question arises - Who is their mom?
This breathtaking and suspenseful tale is narrated from four different points of view within the family: the daughter, Chi-hon, a widely recognized author whose relationship with her mother was not always peaceful; the eldest son, Hyong-chol, who was often burdened with the responsibilities of being the eldest and a male; the too often unfaithful husband, a torn man who only now recognizes the deep feelings he has for his wife; and lastly the mother herself. Each chapter adds a layer to the story's depth and complexity, and this is made more powerful by the mother telling her story last and in the first-person, confirming or correcting what the previous narrators have said, and most importantly revealing who she is as a person without the label of mother, wife, or daughter.
While the book's themes are universal, the details of the story are specific to contemporary Korea. I got a good glimpse into window of the culture of Korea, its food, festivals, traditions and family dynamics. The writing was spell-binding as the author skillfully juxtaposed images of modern Korea vs. wartime Korea, city living vs. country living, and older generation vs. younger generation. After finishing this book, it caused me to pause, and think about myself as a mother and a daughter - do I really know my mother and do my children really know me.
I recommend this book to readers who enjoy stories of family dynamics, emotional stories, or stories set in Asia.
Reviewed by Beverly
APOOO Literary Book Review