Friday, 2 December 2022

Kyung-sook, Shin "Please Look After Mom"

Kyung-sook, Shin "Please Look After Mom" (Korean: 엄마를 부탁해 Ch'angbi) - 2008

We read this in our international online book club in November 2022.

I wouldn't be able to say whether I liked this book or not. The first half was not too bad. We learn about the family who lost their mother. She just disappeared in a busy train station in a large city, Seoul, though that could have happened anywhere since the mother seems to suffer from Alzheimer's.

The story is told by the various family members and that's how we get to know them, though, at times, you are not a hundred percent sure who is talking. We get to know the life in a small village in South Korea as well as in the capital, the traditions and the changes in society. That was quite interesting.

However, I couldn't relate as much to the second part. It was too much magic realism for me, too "Asian" for my European thinking. And a little too muddled up. We get to like the father even less than in the first part, he's just like all the other machos in this world who believe they own everything just because they are male and the women are their slaves.

However, other members didn't agree with that:

"I absolutely loved this book. It spoke about an unknown culture, country and time in history for me, reminded me of my visit to the Vatican, and spoke about relationships in a family and the path through life to death.

The main character reminded me of my grandmother about the same age (minus the dementia) who grew up as a farm-wife, lived through WWII and never complained about having to do what needs to be done. The perspective of the story's narrator was in the second form which made it feel very personal, and it told the story from many of the characters' perspectives. It felt like real people, a real unperfect family with real thoughts and issues. And the main character got to observe all the other characters and think about her feelings towards them. Wonderful and really moving at the end.

And I would not be surprised at all if the author receives a Nobel Prize in Literature in about 20-30 years from now."

From the back cover:

"An international sensation and a bestseller that has sold over 1.5 million copies [...], Please Look After Mom is a stunning, deeply moving story of a family's search for their missing mother - and their discovery of the desires, heartaches and secrets they never realized she harbored within.

When sixty-nine year old So-nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station, and vanishes, their children are consumed with loud recriminations, and are awash in sorrow and guilt. As they argue over the 'Missing' flyers they are posting throughout the city - how large of a reward to offer, the best way to phrase the text - they realize that none of them have a recent photograph of Mom. Soon a larger question emerges: do they really know the woman they called Mom?

Told by the alternating voices of Mom's daughter, son, her husband and, in the shattering conclusion, by Mom herself, the novel pieces together, Rashomon-style, a life that appears ordinary but is anything but.

This is a mystery of one mother that reveals itself to be the mystery of all our mothers: about her triumphs and disappointments and about who she is on her own terms, separate from who she is to her family. If you have ever been a daughter, a son, a husband or a mother,
Please Look After Mom is a revelation - one that will bring tears to your eyes."


  1. I've mostly read nonfiction books by Korean authors, not any fiction novels that I can think of. This one sounds interesting in the way that it's told, but I'm not sure I'd love it either.

    1. Thanks, Lark. I haven't read much about Korea but the only books I liked about it were "The Accusation" by Bandi and "Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee. Maybe the culture is not for me. Or I should stick to non-fiction books.