Friday, July 15, 2011

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

I have to say that the East and Southeast Asian Challenge is really working out for me. I picked up Please Look After Mom since it was both set in South Korea and originally published in Korean. My goal is to read a book from as many countries included in the challenge as possible.

Please Look After Mom begins with a family trying to find their missing mother. She was visiting her children in Seoul when she was separated from her husband while trying to get on a subway then disappeared. The story unfolds from the perspective of multiple family members, including the older daughter, the oldest son, and the woman's husband.

The novel itself was interesting for a couple of reasons, both because it used multiple perspectives and in some cases, was written in second person. There were also a few elements of magical realism which added to the confusion of what had actually happened to So-Nyo (the mother). Interestingly enough, the novel focuses less on finding So-Nyo and more on revealing who she is.

Early on, it becomes fairly obvious that So-Nyo's identity has been swallowed up by her family, even from the time she was young. In the opening paragraphs, it's revealed that her family is even unclear about her birthdate. The children had grown up believing that it was July 24, 1938, but then her husband corrects the children and tells them she was born in 1936, but parents didn't register their children for a few years before making their existence official due to the high infant mortality rate. The family also has trouble finding a current photo of her since she had started to avoid pictures and the only suitable one was from a family photo taken years earlier. Even her name makes her seem almost disposable, since the reader discovers later that So-Nyo means "Little Girl" and her sister was named Tae-Nyo or "Big Girl."

Even though the family is searching for their mother for the entire story, the story of the search frequently takes a backseat to the family's memories. Throughout the novel, we learn that So-Nyo was selfless and valued her family above all, though her children and husband don't always see it that way and dismiss her sacrifices both big and small.

Throughout the novel, the family also has to come to terms with the fact that So-Nyo was getting older and her health and mental state were declining. This results in a lot of guilt, since her family ignored the signs and instead got angry or frustrated at her for...well, basically, for not being Mom.

I think that the story will really strike a chord for a lot of people, especially anyone who has watched a family member get older and deal with the limitations of age. It's easy to get angry at the children and her husband for failing to recognize that she was sick and needed help, but they generally meant well and truly cared for their mother. It's just difficult for anyone to watch a family member change from the person you remembered. And, once you're forced to come to terms with the fact that the changes aren't the person's fault, it's equally hard to look back on the times you were less than patient or not as sympathetic as you could have been.

1 comment:

  1. the title really intrigues me, but the book sounds really sad. It looks like it's worth reading though.

    I'm glad this challenge is working out for you :)