Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin: A Book Review

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Reading the novel with my Korean student

What would you DO if your mother went missing? Would you look for her by distributing an avalanche of flyers in public, or making a spate of announcements on TV? What would you FEEL if your mother disappeared? Would you feel indifferent to it? Would you lose interest in doing anything? Would you not be able to concentrate on your work? Probably, you would. Basically, the novel deals with what a perfect mother in general is like as well as deep regrets about how we treat our mothers. Also, it shows the contemporary Korean family traditions.

Park So-nyo is a mother to three children. I would say that she is an epitome of a perfect mother, an indefatigable mother who never gets tired of working around-the-clock for the sakes of her children, a mother who understands what it feels like to be a child, a mother- although illiterate she is – who always thinks of what is good for her children; most importantly, a mother who never robs her children of RESPECT and LOVE. For sure, her home is conducive to a healthy living despite her family lacks the trappings of life.

The novel must illustrate how we bitterly regret when our mothers disappears. Probably, we will miss her badly like an abandoned orphan. We may blame ourselves for all the things we have done. As a matter of fact, the novel manifests three kinds of regrets:

(a) Father/husband’s regrets. Betrothed at an early age to a woman he has never met, So-nyo’s husband becomes indifferent and stoical. Eventually, with great regret about maltreating her, he will come back to his senses that he loves her after all, for he will realize how responsible mother she is. A common scene in movies and TV dramas we have seen.
(b) Children’s regrets. Although nurtured with unconditional love, So-nyo’s children will realize their shortcomings- how they make lights of their mother’s sacrifice and lessons she teaches to them. It happens to us, doesn’t it? Especially, while we are still growing up, or on the cusp of fulfilling our dreams, when we enjoy our lives to the fullest.
(c) Kinfolk’s regrets. In the novel, So-nyo’ husband’s kins seem to detest her a lot. However, when So-nyo goes missing, some will realize how good she has been to her family.

The review on its back is right that “… you will never think of your mother the same way after you read it. “ While I was reading it, it punched my heart, for it reminded me of my late mother. Like So-nyo’s husband and children, I have regretted a lot. I wish I had done it. I wish had not done it. I wish I could do it for her now. But alas, she has gone. So like what So-nyo’s daughter Chi-hon ‘s final message, “ Please, look after your mom.”

I think, therefore, that the novel is all about the contemporary family culture and customs in South Korea. I think park So-nyo could be the archetype of what a particular mother is like in Korea. Besides, the novel limns the importance of having a first son in a family.

The style of the novel is unusual for me. This is my first time to have read a novel with more than three or four narrators, so the writing is said to be sharp, biting, and intensely moving despite the fact that I am familiar with the concept of the story.

What I liked about the novel is its vivid descriptions of the Korean cuisine I have eaten already. Although the foods are translated into English, I could- aside from kimchi , panchan, and persimmon- guess what foods are being mentioned:

(a) Perilla leaves- kaenyip
(b) The noodles- ramen
(c) The beer mixed with sojju- maggoli
(d) The long white rice cake – garae tok
(e) The sea weed soup-miyok guk
(f) The rice wrapped with green sea weed- gimbap
(g) Sautéed anchovies- myeol chi
(h) Red-paste pepper- gochugang
(i) The mashed pumpkin soup- hobakjuk
(j) Braised tofu- tofujorim
(k) Boiled octopus- ojengo

Kudos to its translator , Chi young Kim! The foods made my mouth water. ^_^

Rating: 4/ 5 stars

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