When sixty-nine-year-old So-nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station, her family begins a desperate search to find her. Yet as long-held secrets and private sorrows begin to reveal themselves, they are forced to wonder: how well did they actually know the woman they called Mother?
After July’s diversion into Harry Potter land, it’s time to crack on with my #Marthas30At30 list, as voted for by you, dear bookworms! One of the winners in the #ReadTheWorld category was Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mother, translated by Chi-Young Kim.
“Sister. Do you think we’ll be able to be with her again, even if it’s just for one day? Do you think I’ll be given the time to understand Mother and hear her stories and console her for her old dreams that are buried somewhere in the pages of time? If I’m given even a few hours, I’m going to tell her that I love all the things she did, that I love Mom, who was able to do all of that, that I love Mother’s life, which nobody remembers. That I respect her. Sister, please don’t give up on Mother, please find Mother.”
Please Look After Mother very nearly landed on my abandoned pile. The plot is very slow as this is essentially a novel looking backwards; four children and their father are stuck in a present where Mother is neither living nor dead and so can do little else but remember the woman that she is/was, and examine all the ways in which they let her down. Because of that, there actually isn’t much plot, it’s a character study more than anything else, and I don’t always get along very well with that type of story. However, I decided to press on, recognising that any book coming directly after the emotional rollercoaster that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was at a pretty major disadvantage!
The writing switches between first, second and third person narration, depending on which member of the family we’re hearing from. I found this interesting but it made it a lot harder to navigate; each chapter is dedicated to one character, but sometimes it took me a couple of pages to figure out which character that was, as they were often being referred to as ‘You’, and the chapters weren’t named. It made it harder to form a solid impression of each character; each one has a lot to regret which, coupled with the ambiguous narration, left them harder to distinguish.
That said, there were some incredibly poignant moments and I shed a few tears as some of the characters came to really understand everything that Mother had done for them and begin to despair about her absence. It’s a very moving book, and if the narrative style had been less ambiguous, I think I would have given it a higher rating. Overall, 3.5 stars.
#ReadTheWorld – South Korea
#Marthas30At30 – 7/30