on 30 August 2011
Although I should have no reason to feel guilty about my own relationship with my elderly parents, the skill of this book is that it causes us to question the roles of the generations, and our treatment of elderly relatives when we ourselves reach adulthood. The 'mother' of the title is Son-yo who has, like many others of her generation, sacrificed self and sanity for the betterment of her husband and five children, disregarding her own views, desires and even health to promote theirs.
The book tells the story of the elderly, confused peasant mother, Son-yo, who goes missing when she fails to board a train in Seoul, Korea, with her husband on a visit to one of their children. The story is told from the perspective of the mother, her children and her husband. Did any of them really know her? Did they realise that she had been illiterate? Could they even remember the colour of the sandals she wore around her septic toe?
The use of 'you', mentioned by other reviewers, could be just the result of translation irregularities.
As generations evolve and change, they try to judge previous generations from their own standpoints, which is what we should never do! Thus the adult children fail to value the world and work of their mother, and do not appreciate her role in their lives until she is no longer there for them.
It wasn't a pleasant read because it forced me to confront generational differences, but I think its power will stay with me for a long time.
on 18 March 2011
Splintered narratives are in vogue in Korea, and this bestseller is a doozy. Four narrators describe their relationships over their lifetimes with Mother, an almost archetypal figure of self-abnegation and love. Towards the twilight of her life, she is separated in a train station from her husband and goes missing. The narrators, veering between despair, panic and utter callousness, recall their experiences of her.
The title in English misses the nuance of the Korean, which translates directly as 'I entrust Mum to you'. Mother is of humble origins but not without pride. She sacrifices herself for her eldest boy who remains the apple of her eye well into her old age. She is illiterate, and can't read the books that have made her elder daughter famous. The son is suffused with guilt at not necessarily having achieved all Mother wanted him to. The daughter, increasingly sophisticated with age, is irritated by her mother's superstition and stubborness, and then regrets the distance that not even love can easily bridge. Father, too, has his reasons for despair - he didn't help Mother as she spiralled into illness, both physical and mental, and he became increasingly more self-indulgent, intolerant of his wife. The family strains and creaks under these revelations, both introspective and narrative. How little they cherished Mother when she stood as their bedrock, and how much they miss her when she is lost, alone and defenceless. The little tragedies of life come to roost, and - unlike in most redemptive fiction - there are no easy answers in this tender and tragic tale.
on 29 April 2015
Kyung-Sook Shin has written an exceptional novel and I can see why it is a bestseller in its native language, in Korea. It is a story about relationships, about families and those close to us. The story is about a mother who is separated from her husband when boarding a train in Seoul, South Korea,on the way to visit her eldest son and her family's search for her. It is told in four voices, a daughter, a son, a husband and a mother. The story unfolds in mostly second-person narration, from the point of view of each these characters. The translator, Chi-Young Kim did an excellent job with the translation and made it seem as though it were originally written in English.
Rather than being given a lot of intimate details about each of these people, the author brings us into the drama of the mother disappearing at the station, and although we come to know a little more about the mother, there are really more questions than answers about the other family members. I normally like stories with a lot of character development, but somehow, this really worked and I was quickly drawn in, perhaps in the way of an accident or other tragedy where you don't want to look, but somehow need to know how and why it happened and how the people involved are affected. In many cases Kyung-Sook Shin gives only a few details and it is up to the reader to fill in the blanks. It gives a glimpse into the culture of present day South Korea both in a large city and in a rural area and we can see how much things have changed in only a single generation. It only took a few pages to become very involved.
This story is about complex emotions and interactions between family members. It was striking how differently each member of the family handled the disappearance. There are emotions that most of us could identify with in some way: helplessness, guilt, impatience, sadness and also joy. It was powerful and fragile at the same time. There are lessons to be learned and questions about how we view our relationships. It's the kind of story I'll be thinking about for a long time.
Try not to read too many spoilers if you're planning to read this book. The story needs to be uncovered layer, by layer, just as it was written. Two thumbs up for this moving novel.
Please Look After Mother is a novel about regret and how we wish we could go back and change how we relate to the people we love.
A mother goes missing in Seoul and her family are left trying to find her by producting flyers and searching for her. As you read this Korean novel you find out how the mother becomes lost in Seoul and you are given an insight into her life through the eyes of her daughter, son and husband, and how her going missing makes them review their attitude towards her, making them realise how they never fully appreciated her and how they never told her how much she meant to each of them.
This is a quietly, compelling novel dealing with motherhood and family, and is well worth a read.
on 3 September 2011
My wife's review:
This novel is from widely acclaimed Korean author Shin which focuses on motherhood and family guilt. Park So-nyo, mother of four now-adult children, has gone missing in a Seoul train station on the way to visit them. The novel is told in four parts, from the perspectives of, first, her daughter, and then, her firstborn son, her husband, and finally, So-nyo herself. Composed almost entirely in second-person narration, the writing is sharp, biting, and intensely moving. So-nyo's children continually battle with their own guilt for not taking better care of her while reminiscing about the times when they were young, growing up in incredible poverty in the countryside. The children come to terms with their mother's absence in their own ways, and their father repents for a lifetime of neglect. When So-nyo's voice enters the narrative, the portrait of a troubled but loving family is complete. Secrets are revealed, and the heart of a mother is beautifully exposed.
This Korean million-plus-copy best-seller is an impressive exploration of family love, poverty, and triumphing over hardship. This is a moving story that makes you think about the sacrifices that mother's make for their children.
Elderly and unwell, Mother becomes separated from her husband in the Seoul metro. Her children put up adverts and begin to reproach themselves and each other. They look back on her life, given up to the care of them and their father; to consider how they became dismissive and short-tempered with her as she grew older, taking her selflessness for granted. Her husband remembers how little attention he paid to her illness and how he left her to care for the children years ago.
This book works because Mother isn't just a saccharine character but a real human being.
The sections are written from the point of view of her children and of her husband; in the final part we hear Mother's voice. It makes you consider how you're treating your own family.
I also found it interesting to read a book set in a country I know little about; the modern society of the young is similar to our own, but the wartime recollections of poverty and food shortage are still very much part of the mindset of the older generation.
"Please Look After Mother," tells the story of a Korean family and how their lives are changed when So-nyo, the wife and mother goes missing. After getting separated from her husband when travelling to Seoul in the subway station, the elderly and often confused So-nyo disappears.
Through the narrative a picture is drawn of the families' individual lives as they search for So-nyo and begin to reminisce about the past. I particularly enjoyed the revelations as each family member recognised how much their mother has done for them and how perhaps they haven't appreciated her as much as they should.
I did find the story quite confusing to follow at times with the use of the second person as the word `you' is used by a variety of different narrators as well as the plot moving back and forward in time. I also found that whilst I gained a good understanding of So-nyo and her life story the other members of her family were not so well painted. Overall I found Kyung-Sook Shin's acclaimed novel to be unique and heartfelt but nonetheless slightly disappointing.
on 1 May 2015
Please Look After Mother is a book that I bought in 2013, but hadn’t gotten around to read before now. It’s one of those heartbreaking books. A book where you can’t help but to relate.
Mother goes missing and the children spend their times thinking about what led to all of this, how it could have happened and where Mother is.
The book is divided into four different parts. The first part is you, where the reader is the daughter. Part two is from the brother’s side, part three is father’s and the last part is from the Mother’s side. The parts are divided in to small chapters, so to speak. They’re divided by the memory of a specific event and happening. Like I mentioned previously, I couldn’t help but get emotional. Shin has done a wonderful job on playing with the reader’s feelings. The book has been beautiful translated and the narration’s were a great choice. It really helped connecting with the events and it sort of made it all more personal for me.
Please Look After Mother portrays the story of an unconditional love from a mother to a child. The sacrifices Mother made, the pains she endured, the hard work she pulled herself through, just to take care of her child. They’re all there.
There’s a part where “you” think that Mother is just a mother. It’s so easy to forget that she as well is more than that. She’s also a daughter, a sibling, a woman. Someone who was younger, who had a childhood, who cares for her siblings the way you do for yours. The book is very relatable to me for several reasons, but I’m not going to type them out here.
At one point, Mother had to pay for “your” middle school fee. The family, living out on the countryside, couldn’t really afford it. Mother, therefore, sold her only piece of jewelry (a gold ring) in order to be able to send “you” to school. Mother even had a stroke that she never told anyone about. Was it because she didn’t want to worry her children? Because she didn’t want to be a burden? She was quiet despite being in constant pain, and for what reason? I think this book portrays the sorrows some mothers may feel that the children aren’t aware of. The hardships they face in order to provide and cherish their children. It gets to the point where they don’t matter, where all they do is to constantly care for the children.
It ended up feeling as if Mother was lonely. All of her five children have moved out. All of them away from the countryside and to Seoul. When “you” asked her who she goes hiking with, because she did that quite often, she replies “nobody, there’s nobody who would come with me”. Please Look After Mother is like a daughter’s (or family’s) realization that they possibly didn’t know their mother (and wife) as much as they thought they did. Did she like cooking for the family? Did she like her life? Was it enjoyable for her? All those questions that rose after the disappearance, that possibly should have risen before, are heartbreaking.
Mother went through a lot of hardships, and I believe those hardships is what made her desire to provide for her children even stronger. She didn’t know how to read or write, therefore she wanted her children to be able to do so. She was extremely proud of her daughter (“you”) who’s a novelist that she went to do charity work just so someone could read her books out loud for her.
The father in the family isn’t introduced until midway through the book. I found that to be a good choice. That way we got to know Mother first, and it ended up being easier to feel what she was going through and sympathize with her. The father had once brought a fair-skinned lady over. Mother had then gone outside the back door. Just like that. It felt as if Mother never felt appreciated. It felt as if she could have made so much more out of her life had she only been given the opportunity. The eldest son, Hyong Chul, studied hard in order to become a prosecutor for his mother’s sake. Mother stood behind him the entire way, wishing he’d realize his dream. Essentially, I believe the mother saw her dreams and desires come alive through her children. All the things she couldn’t do, what she couldn’t experience, her children lived for her.
The book was emotionally driven for me. At times it felt like the children came to the realization that they’d been taking their mother for granted. That there were things still left undone, that there were words still left unsaid.
Please Look After Mother has become a new favorite book of mine. I definitely recommend this to everyone, there’s no doubt about it.
Kyung-Sook Shin's story about an elderly woman, So-nyo, who goes missing on the Seoul underground won the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize. Through a series of voices, her elder daughter, Chi-hon, a high-strung, unmarried writer, her son, Hyong-chol, and her unfaithful husband describe their frantic search for the old woman and offer up their memories of her. Gradually they see just how selfish they have all been, putting themselves first and never thinking about their mother who simply was always there for them.
Chi-hon realises that she had started to take her mother for granted long before she went missing and the time she gave her had become less and less. Hyong-chol realizes that, as the first child, he was always his mother's favourite. He felt guilty about how much love his mother gave him and promised to make her life better, but never did.
The voice of the selfish husband and father, never named, is especially moving since he understands that by walking on ahead of his wife in the underground he is to blame for her disappearance. He never insisted that his wife see the doctor when she was in severe pain and was unable to express his deep sorrow when his son, Kyon, died and so share this with his wife. He is also unable to share his grief over his wife's disappearance and goes home where he is alone, quite lost without his wife. "After your children's mother went missing, you realised it was your wife who was missing. Your wife, who you'd forgotten about for fifty years, was present in your heart".
The children prepare a poster to hand to passers-by, but realise that they do not have an up-to-date one of her. They hear tantalising stories about a dishevelled old woman, hobbling with a bad foot, wearing blue plastic shoes who has been seen near to the houses that they have lived in. This gives them hope.
Gradually we find out more and more about the old lady's life until, at the end, we hear her voice. She feels guilty for everything she has failed to do for her family and others. We realise that she has long been suffering from unbearable headaches and other diseases, helped at the local orphanage and sent donations each month, sold her wedding ring for her children's tuition, and had never been taught to read so asks someone to read her daughter's book to her. We are told how much the death of Kyun affected her as did the baby that was stillborn, and she feels pangs of tearful love for her own mother who always put her first.
The translation, by Chi-young Kim, does what any good translation should, it makes the reader forget that it has not been written in English. A very emotional section is where Chi-hon talks to a visually-handicapped audience about her book and realises just how much she relies on the eyes of her audience to stimulate her delivery.
So-nyo's children realise that they never said `thank you' to their mother for bringing them up, for giving them opportunities she never had and for going without food so that they can eat. Now it may be too late. When she makes one of her back-breaking day trips to Seoul for a wedding, she immediately starts preparing food for the family. However, the author does not make the mother a saint, she could whip her children, throw a table in a tantrum and leave her unpleasant husband when he brought his girlfriend home. Later she returned because she missed her children so much and kicked out her husband and girlfriend.
The contrast between the age-old ways of Koreans and the behavior, and motivations, of this generation will be much more directly understood by Korean readers. Shin directs this book at the first generation of Koreans to benefit from their country's economic boom. But those who created the opportunities are left stranded by their children who have fled to the cities to take them. However, this book will resonate with Western readers and I recommend it without reservation.
on 22 August 2012
There was a lot of hype about this book due to the fact that it won the Man Asian Literary Prize. Not only was Shin Kyung-Sook the first South Korean to win this prize, but she was the first woman too. This book is beautifully written and I feel that a lot of love, care and attention has gone into her work. The descriptions are beautiful and it paints such a picture that you feel you have been to South Korea as well as the time and world in which these characters were living.
The characters in this book are exceptionally well depicted. Each character goes on his or her journey wherein they learn more about themselves and more about the woman they called Mother. It annoys me that there are versions of this book called Please Look After Mom as the character in the book is called 'Mother' and I think Mom has a completely different feel and evokes a totally different relationship.
This book should be read for the point of view alone. It is mainly written in second person = you did/said/etc. (instead of the normal first person perspective = I did/said/etc. or 3rd person perspective = he/she did/said/etc.) This perspective, usually reserved for adventure books, is extremely rare in full-length novels. Someone I spoke to about asked if it was off-putting, or made you feel like the narrator was unreliable, but neither was the case.
This was a fascinating and wonderful book and I would thoroughly recommend it.