South Korea: Please Look After Mom Review

Title: Please Look After Mom
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Genre: Contemporary

Blurb: A million-plus-copy best seller in Korea — a magnificent English-language debut poised to become an international sensation — this is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.

Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.

You will never think of your mother the same way again after you read this book.

Me: An interesting read, because I am South Korean myself. It created a much more personal connection with the text. 

The Ups: At first sight, I really didn't understand why this book was so extraordinary, and why it has had the success it has. The writing style is quite plain, and the plot line is neither incredibly exciting nor exceptional. But as the story progressed, I realized that the tone and simple, bared-down scenes had the intended effect.

This book is one about Korean women. It is about mothers, and daughters, and husbands. Mostly it explores the invisible role that mothers play in the Korean culture; they often leave their own passions and dreams to take care of a family, and more often than not, that family does not fully appreciate what they do. Korean women blend into the backdrop, the applause to the success of their children and husbands.

But as we see in the book, when the mother suddenly disappears, life can barely function. The family realizes how truly dependent they have been on their mother, and begin to regret not spending their time wisely with her. They wish they could see her again to tell her how much she is appreciated, and how much they love her, but they never get to.

I really can't say if this is just a Korean phenomenon, but I can say it is certainly very present in Korea. It makes the reader think once more about their own relationship with their mothers.

The Downs: That being said, I didn't feel like the overall message compensated for the quite flat plot and tone. I wonder if I should try reading in Korean, because maybe the translation was where the tone went from simple but powerful to boring.

The transitions of perspectives were not very clear, and not entirely smooth. There was third, first, and second person, creating an odd montage of voices that it took me a while to get used to.

I also think that being a person who hasn't left company of their mother yet, I can't really speak personally on this issue, except for the subtle repression of women freedom that I've seen in South Korea myself. I hope that I may be able to revisit this when I am older, maybe I'll look at it differently.

Overall: Interesting in what it says about the invisible role of women and mothers in Korea's society, but falls flat with prose and plot.

Rating: 3 kisses!

1 comment:

  1. You might be right - maybe something was lost in translation? I tend to find that translation highlights different aspects of the book, and that is awesome because it makes it a living, breathing, thing. But sometimes a translation can lose something of the tone and flow of the original.