Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook-Shin
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Format: Trade Paperback, 254 pages
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Pub Date: April 3, 2012
Man Asian Literary Prize Winner of 2011
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is not only the recipient of the Man Asian Literary Prize for 2011, it is also a peek at the restrained nuances in relationship within a particular Korean family and a testament to the hidden gift they received from the persevering love of a mother.
But even then, it is more than that. It is, in its simple and direct narrative by daughter, son, husband, and eventually mother, a slow revelation of So-Nyo’s secret character fuelled by repressed desire and discarded “dreams.”
Slowly, as you read further into the book, 69-year-old So-Nyo’s life and character is revealed through the perception of her loved ones as they attempt to piece together the clues that may eventually lead them back to their mother after her sudden disappearance as last seen at the Seoul subway station.
It is a story filled with sorrow, loneliness, and neglect—a story of how a family can misinterpret a woman, not by who she is, but by who they believe her to be because of her role as a mother.
And this mother, So-Nyo, does in so many ways sacrifice of herself for the sake of her husband and her five children.
Though she was illiterate, she exceeded in her knowledge and gift of domesticity. She knew how to till the earth to make things grow—food, for the survival of her family at a time of poverty and uncertainty.
She swallowed her pride for the sake of Korean propriety and tradition and continued in her persevering love towards her husband after restlessness, betrayal, and cold neglect—and towards her children after years of indifference, rebellion, irritation, and condescension.
The story is as much a story about So-Nyo’s husband and children as it is about So-Nyo in their response or lack of response to her, after taking her and her role as matriarch in the family for granted.
But the novel is not written in a cruel manner as much as it sounds, but written as a matter-of-fact—a quasi-memoir of regretful and loving memories of one who was an integral person in the core of their family and yet so unknown.
It is a story that will remind us of the importance of honouring our mothers, the elderly, and the sick as a priority in our often ambitious desires and busy lives.
It is an intimate peek at the Korean cultural expectations of mother and wife and some of the injustice associated with that, that is largely due to its acceptance—and the powerful regret that results in honouring and loving our wives and our mothers too late.
For a sober look at Samaritan love and sacrifice and silence and the burden of responsibility, embedded cultural practices, and the difficult choices one must make to honour both, Please Look After Mom, is a sad story, a testimony to motherhood, and a keen warning to us all.
A special thank you to Vintage Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.
To get a chance to win a copy of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, you can enter The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event Giveaway via The Bibliotaphe’s Closet. Open to CAN & U.S. residents. Ends June 1, 2012.
To read more posts for The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, you can visit here.