Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook was awarded Man Asian Literary Prize (2011). Set in Korea, it is a deeply emotional story of familial love, sacrifices, desires, loneliness, honor and integrity.
The story begins when sixty-nine-year-old Park So-nyo gets separated from her husband at Seoul railway station and is lost amongst the crowds. Her family—husband, daughters and sons undertake a frantic search to find her. As they prepare flyers to post all over the city, they realize they don’t even have Mom’s recent photograph. They are not sure of her likes, dislikes or even her birth date. It is just the beginning of a journey in the lives of the family as the big question reveals itself—how well do any of them know Mom?
Adopting a Rashomon-style narrative, the author highlights the shortcomings in familial relationships through four different perspectives—of the daughter, son, husband and finally Mom herself. Through each character, we get to know Mom and understand her selflessness, her daily life and struggles, her relationship with her husband, children, sister-in-law. But the revelation is not just about the mother. It is also about the guilt the children and husband are carrying. Their memories depict their attitude towards their mother—how they have always taken her for granted, and never paid heed to her desires or even acknowledged her sacrifices.
It is extremely sad that only when she goes missing do the family members realize her worth.
It took me a while to get used to the 2nd person narrative style. But it was worth the effort, as I could appreciate the deeper and varied insights the author was highlighting. The incidence of a missing person and its effect on the different family members is well depicted. The husband, sons and daughters react and respond to their missing mother diversely. It shows the kind of relationship they shared with her. In a simple manner Shin lays bare human tendencies, emotions and family dynamics. The family members carry a lot of guilt and regret, unfortunately it’s too late for them to rectify their actions.
Though I understand the protagonist is part of a traditional Korean society, where women have to shoulder the burden of the family, I sincerely wished for the mother to be able to speak for herself and realize her worth. She gives and gives, expecting nothing in return. It was painful to see her sufferings and sacrifices going unnoticed.
Please Look After Mom is a sad and highly contemplative read, reminding us to show our love and gratitude to our loved ones when there’s still time.
Wordsopedia rating 3.5/5
|Title: Please Look After Mom||Author: Shin Kyung-sook|
|Publisher: Knopf||Publication date: November 5th 2008|
|Genre: Fiction—Contemporary||Format: Hardcover|
|ISBN: 9780307593917||No. of Pages: 237|
Buy your copy here at Amazon
About the Author
Kyung-sook Shin is a South Korean writer. She is the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 for Please Look After Mom.