Please Look After Mom (Shin)

Book Reviews
Shin’s novel, her first to be translated into English, embraces multiplicity. It is told from the perspectives of four members of [a missing woman’s] family; from their memories emerges a portrait of a heroically industrious woman. [Mom] runs their rural home ‘like a factory,’ sews and knits and tills the fields. The family is poor, but she sees to it that her children’s bellies are filled.... Only after her children grow up and leave their home in [the countryside] does Mom’s strength and purposefulness begin to flag. Questions punctuate [the] narrative and lead to a cascade of revelations, discoveries that come gradually.... Shin’s prose, intimate, and hauntingly spare, powerfully conveys grief’s bewildering immediacy. [Daughter] Chi-hon’s voice is the novel’s most distinct, but Father’s is the most devastating.... And yet this book isn’t as interested in emotional manipulation as it is in the invisible chasms that open up between people who know one another best.... A raw tribute to the mysteries of motherhood.
Mythili G. Rao - New York Times Book Review


Intimate.... Reflective meditations on motherhood and a ruminative quest to confront mysteries... ­[The novel’s] accumulating voices form a kind of instrumental suite, each segment joined by the same melody of family nostalgia, guilt and apology, and each ­occasionally plucking away at several larger motifs: country vs. city living, illiteracy vs. ­education, arranged mar­riages vs. modern dating, traditions vs. new freedoms.... [Please Look After Mom] will strike a chord with many readers, stimulating their own recollections or regrets. Truth be told, I called my mom well before the book’s final page, feeling the need to look after her a little myself.
Art Tyler - Washington Post


Haunting.... Ferven...but also sinuous and elusive.... Details, unembellished and unsentimental, are the individual cells that form this novel’s beating heart.... [Shin] re-create[s] a life through fragmented family recollections [and] leads the reader on a switchback journey to the past, historical and personal.... The novel’s language—so formal in its simplicity—bestows a grace and solemnity on childhood scenes.... The rhythms of agrarian life and labor that Shin deftly conveys have a subtle, cumulative power. With each description, the relentless tide of the past erodes the yielding ground of the present to reveal the contours of one woman’s life. . . . Memory is the only guide and the least reliable one.... Revelation arrives quietly, but truth remains the sole property of the lost.
Anna Mundow - Boston Globe


Quite apart from the universal sentiment it expresses so well, Please Look After Mom is intriguing for its X-ray insight into the mind and experience of an uneducated woman born to generations of subsistence farmers in a remote, mountainous region of the old Hermit Kingdom. It is a cultural leap that most modern readers could scarcely imagine, but it occurs with miraculous ease over the book’s 237 pages.... Shin uses the remorseful memories of the lost mother’s loved ones to personalize the cultural chasm that separates modern Koreans from their immediate, pre-industrial past.
Globe and Mail (Canada)


[Shin's novel] can be read on several levels, as a metaphor for the impressions of the past as they linger in the present, as a story of mothers and children, husbands and wives. It describes one woman’s self-sacrifice so that the next generation may realize their dreams, instead of putting them to the side as she had to.... It reveals the emergence of a post-war metropolitan society in the twentieth century.... A captivating story, written with an understanding of the shortcomings of traditional ways and modern life. It is nostalgic but unsentimental, brutally well observed and, in this flawlessly smooth translation, it offers a sobering account of a vanished past. It is the seventh novel by the much-praised Kyung-sook Shin and the first to be translated into English after a best-selling 1.5 million print run that changed the face of publishing in Korea in 2008. We must hope there will be more translations to follow.
Kelly Falconer - Times Literary Supplement (UK)


Please Look After Mom is a suspenseful, haunting, achingly lovely novel about the hidden lives, wishes, struggles and dreams of those we think we know best.... Shin’s deft use of second person lends this story an instant intimacy.... There are few ways to describe this story that don’t involve the word "devastating."
Seattle Times


Shin's affecting English-language debut centers on the life of a hardworking, uncomplaining woman who goes missing in a bustling Seoul subway station. After Park So-nyo's disappearance, her grown children and her husband are filled with guilt and remorse at having taken So-nyo for granted and reflect, in a round-robin of narration, on her life and role in their lives. Having, through Mom's unstinting dedication, achieved professional success, her children understand for the first time the hardships she endured. Her irresponsible and harshly critical husband, meanwhile, finally acknowledges the depth of his love and the seriousness of her sacrifices for him. Narrating in her own voice late in the book, the spirit of Mom watches her family and finally voices her lifelong loneliness and depression and recalls the one secret in her life. As memories accrue, the narrative becomes increasingly poignant and psychologically revealing of all the characters, and though it does sometimes go soggy with pathos, most readers should find resonance in this family story, a runaway bestseller in Korea poised for a similar run here.
Publishers Weekly

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