"I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place."
- Anne Tyler
How much do you know your mother? Are you often mad at her because she’s irritating? Does she always ask you to do some household chores? Or are you considering her as the witch in your own fairytale?
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is about the disappearance of an illiterate and elderly mom in a crowded Seoul train station without his husband’s knowledge. Her family, including her four adult children, is desperately trying to do everything to find her and as they continue searching, they realize how little they know about their mother, like they don’t even have a recent photo of her, and they starts to blame themselves for giving her less attention.
"When you write 24 July 1938 as Mother’s birth date, your father corrects you, saying that she was born in 1936. Official records show that she was born in 1938, but apparently she was born in 1936. This is the first time you’ve heard this." - page 4
The novel is divided into different parts and each one was narrated by the family members including Chi-hon (the eldest daughter and a novelist), Hyong-chol (the eldest son and the favorite one), the neglectful husband and mom herself. Mom’s background reveals through flashbacks as the novel continues. All her sacrifices for her children, how she handles her unfaithful husband and her generosity not only towards her family but also to other people.
"Mom was the kitchen and the kitchen was Mom. You never wondered, Did Mom like being in the kitchen?" - page 60
The participation of the reader is present by the author’s way of using “you” (second person) in this novel and though it’s quite perplexing in some parts, it still works well. It demands us to ponder and ask ourselves if we are also like one of mom’s children or the husband. Shin has done a great job on reminding us the importance of honouring not only our mother, but also the people who have done a lot of selfless things for us. The changes of the woman’s role are also present by showing how different mom’s life before compared to her children who are living in the present time.
A certified Korean tear-jerker. I had a hard time to finish reading this novel because it’s hard to read when your eyes are filled with tears. From what I’ve read, Shin has won countless awards in her homeland for her works and Please Look After Mom won the Shadow MAN Asian Literary Prize 2011. This book is also her first novel to be translated into English. And I personally would like to thank Chi-Young Kim for expertly translating this amazing novel so it can be appreciated by readers, including me, from different countries.
I recommend this to those who are into deep emotional stories (like me) and also if you are interested in learning about some Korean cultures like The Full Moon Harvest.
On the last page of the book, I wrote a short letter for my mom:
Ma, I miss you so much! I’m sorry for everything.. for being stupid and selfish sometimes. I may not say it often but God knows how much i love you. If given by chance to choose another mom, i will still choose you. Thank you for all the things you’ve done for us. I love you so much. – Kath