Have you ever wondered what would it be like if your mother disappeared one fine day? What would you go through if you were unable to locate her? What would you go through knowing that your mother has disappeared for good?
“Please Look after Mother” by Kyung-Sook Shin is about a mother’s disappearance and written with great empathy and emotion. The mother has disappeared in a crowded Seoul subway station, where she and her husband of 50 years are about to board a train to get to their oldest son’s house. Her disappearance devastates the people left behind.
The story is told from different points of view: her oldest daughter Chi-hon, a writer, her oldest son, Hyung-chol, who disappointed her and feels guilty about it throughout, her husband who is an adulterer, her second son, and last of all her, Mom. Slowly and steadily as the reader makes way through the book, facets of Mom emerge, none of which were known earlier by her family.
For instance, when the daughter’s point of view is being narrated and she finds her mother thinking about her brother, it hits her that even her mother is a sister and daughter to someone before being her mother.
The story will strike a chord in you somewhere. It made me feel the kind of attention may be sometimes I need to give my mother. Kyung-Sook Shin writes with clarity, which is only heart-felt. The relationships are complex (and sometimes you wonder whether is it the same in your family?) and the interaction between family members is restrained (which is the point of the story).
The Korean culture shines throughout the book – the way they live, the traditions and rituals, which to a large extent make the book what it is. The book is a universal story of love and loss, guilt and redemption and the things we do and sometimes we don’t for love. I like how each character in the book was fragile in his or her way and what “family” and “mother” meant to each of them.
Please Look after Mother is a distinct voice in literature and deserves to be read. Kyung-Sook Shin who has been recognized much later (MAN Asian Literary Prize for 2011) only deserves all the accolades for this book and her writing, which makes the reader, feel vulnerable and bare. The book is universal and that is what works best to its advantage. Anyone and everyone can relate to this one. A must read.