Monday, March 26, 2012

book review: Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin

"Even though nobody knew that you were in my life, you were the person who brought a raft at every rapid current and helped me cross that water safely. I was happy that you were there. I came to tell you I was able to travel through my life because I could come to you when I was anxious, not when I was happy.”

The idea of losing your mother is a difficult one to contemplate but what if you realised after you had lost her physically that you had been missing her for years before that sudden disappearance.

The idea of this book is to make you think about what you value and to act almost as a warning not to forget the people you love before it is too late.

Told in four chapters and an epilogue the story is told from different view points. Starting with the explanation that an elderly mother of five children who has health issues gets separated from her husband on the train on a trip to Seoul the hunt for the missing mother then unfolds.

Chapter one is told through the eyes of one of the mother's daughters. A successful novelist the viewpoint makes you think that for that chapter at least this is some sort of biographical work. The daughter realises that she had started to take her mother for granted long before she went missing and the time she gave her had become less and less.

Switching then to the older son you get an insight into the love and care that the mother bestowed on her first born. he is left realising that he pledged to himself to make her life better but he never quite delivered on those promises. Both the son and the daughter express regret and hope that given the chance they can find their mother and make good the things they failed to do.

Through the eyes of her children you get an insight into the mother's world - a hard rural existence scrimping and working all the time for the family. At one point her husband leaves her and she has to fend for herself and she has to struggle with loss and hardship throughout her life. Rather than help her with those the family ignore her problems or fail to deal with them properly.

The third chapter switches to the father and is one of the most moving because you get an insight into the grief he is unable to share with his children. Regrets weight heavily on him and he is lost without his wife.

Then the mother herself speaks. I struggled a bit here to work out who had picked up the story in chapter four and I'm not sure if that is because it changes to the first person or ir its because the ghostly movement takes time to understand.

Overall the book is powerful, makes you think not necessarily about your own mother, but certiantly those that you care about. It makes you determined not to promise and fail to deliver and not to regret the things you did not do and thought you would.


Mark said...

Hi Simon, I also liked this book (although I agree about it getting slightly confusing at the end). Very powerful and thought-provoking, one of my favourites on this list (and the MAN Asian).

Tony said...

People say if you can't say anything nice then you shouldn't say anything at all.

I have nothing to say about this book ;)

Lisa Hill said...

Ah, Tony, that's an eloquent silence!

stujallen said...

I found this thought provoking but it also divides people I know some people hate it ,I found it interesting insight into korea and its shifting society ,all the best stu

Parrish Lantern said...

not read this so can't really comment.This is me not commenting:@)

Micaella Lopez said...

I loved every minute that I was able to steal away and read Kyung-soak Shin's poetic prose, and I'd recommend this book to anyone who is a mother, who knows a mother, or who has a mother.
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Marlene Detierro said...

I highly, highly recommend this beautiful book to everyone. In fact, it should be required reading because you will never see your family, particularly your mother, the same way again.

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