“Please Look After Mother”, a fiction by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, published by Phoenix (Great Britain), 2012.
This fiction was written by Kyung-Sook Shin, an acclaimed novelist, in 2008 in Korean language.
The story revolves around a Korean family and written from the perspective of grown-up children and husband of a mother who went missing from Seoul subway station on a busy Saturday afternoon. The novel is divided into sections and each section is narrated by different character of the family. The author thrusts you, the reader of her novel, into the role played by each character so that you become part of the story. The writer cleverly used “your mother”, “your father”, “your brothers”, “your aunt”, “your wife”, etc in relation to the narrator of the story when identifying various characters in the family.
Because each character (narrator) has intimate knowledge of the mother (Park So-nyo) through years of association with her, the narrator tells his/her side of the story about So-nyo, which is not known to other members of the family. Through this approach of story telling, one can piece together the life and experiences of So-nyo by reading each account.
When the elderly So-nyo went missing because her husband lost grip of her hand while entering a subway train, he in the train and So-nyo outside the train when the door closed, I can feel the panic that arose through both of them since So-nyo was illiterate and lived in a small village with farmland most of her life. To make matter worse, So-nyo underwent surgery for her stroke condition recently and also suffered memory loss.
This is the start of the story and it sparks off a frantic search by the children for their mother. Anger and guilt to despair were common emotion. The eldest brother was 50+ years old and the mother was in her 70s’. He has two brothers and two sisters, all except one are established in their careers.
Park So-nyo’s selfless love and care for each of her children and her husband was typical of all mothers. No matter what happens, mother will always be there to take charge and soothe life’s routine and unexpected occurrences. When her husband was sick, she was there to make sickness more bearable. But no one seemed to reciprocate when it was her turn and worse still her problems went unnoticed.
After So-nyo went missing, the children started to appreciate their mother’s sacrifices in the past. They felt guilt for not being able to spend time with mother and to understand her better. Aren’t we the same? All of us as we live in this world, have mothers and the story reminded us of our duties and love towards our mothers.
An easy book to read and the story line is typical of Asian culture. The last section of the novel caught me by surprise. I went back and re-read again this particular section to gain my bearing for the story. Did Park So-nyo returned to the family? How did the family of five siblings moved on with their lives? Is there any closure? I leave you to read till the epilogue of this touching story.