About to Read: Novelist Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom”

My leisurely morning ritual of reading my RSS feeds turned to gotta-have-it-now excitement when I saw this headline on Korea Herald:

Shin Kyung-sook becomes first Korean to shortlisted

for Man Asian book prize

Wanting to put variety into my enjoyment of Korean entertainment, I’ve been looking for a Korean author to jumpstart my K-literature experience.

And this news seemed to be IT.

After some more Google searches, I was convinced to dip my toes in K-literature with Shin Kyung-sook for the following reasons:

book cover please look after mom

The plot and the premise. The novel is described as a “deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.” The description goes on to declare the book “an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love. (Amazon.com)”

What piqued my interest further was the conflict, which the Man Asian Literary Prize website described as “a disquieting portrait of what can happen when ancient rituals and tradition are ignored in favor of modernity.” Knowing Korea’s breakneck economic growth, this type of conflict isn’t too far-fetched as a literary piece.  

Pico Iyer’s glowing review of the book in Wall Street Journal. Iyer is a writer I respect, so when he says Please Look After Mom is “the most moving and accomplished, and often startling, novel in translation I’ve read in many seasons,” I believe him.

I liked his balanced assessment of the book, which took into account varying audience receptions based on their different cultural backgrounds: “Some American readers may open up Kyung-Sook Shin’s novel and marvel that moving away from a parent can be seen as a source of anguish and a kind of heresy. Others will read it and recognize how much is at stake when we create our own lives and step away from our pasts. The largest split across the globe today is not between Islam and the West, or between China and the United States, but between cultures of the future and those of the past, often within the same country (even within the same family). “

Korean women

Photo from theconstantcrafter.blogspot.com

A peek into Korean women’s lives. I must confess that I tend to be partial to women writers and women’s literature, and that I’m fascinated with traditional and modern women’s lives. So what sealed the deal, so to speak, in my grabbing a copy of this book at my local library as soon as I finished reading the Korea Herald article was Iyer’s insightful take on what the book is all about:

“Please Look After Mom” is full of quiet anger about a time when women had to give up everything to protect their families, and to walk behind their husbands. But it’s also clear-eyed about a modern age in which some women don’t know how to do anything for their families—or even have families to do anything for. It would be easy to say that Ms. Shin has given us an unforgettable East Asian mother out of Amy Tan in a globalized world we recognize from Jhumpa Lahiri. But the author’s first novel to appear in English does something more than that. It tells an almost unbearably affecting story of remorse and belated wisdom that reminds us how globalism—at the human level—can tear souls apart and leave them uncertain of where to turn.”

It is also worth noting that Shin Kyung-sook is the first Korean novelist to be included in the prize’s shortlist. This is surely a proud moment not only for Korea but for “womanity” as well. =)

That the book has sold 1.5 million copies (and counting) in Korea and that the book has been published in more than 20 countries is a very pretty icing on the cake.

Congratulations for being shortlisted in this prestigious award Ms. Shin Kyung-sook! I’m quite excited for this book to take me along what I imagine to be an emotional Seoul subway ride for the soul. I hope March 15 (the day of the winner’s announcement…and the month designated as Women’s Month all over the world) will bring you and Korea very good news!










One comment on “About to Read: Novelist Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom”

  1. Pingback: About to Read: Novelist Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom” | The Korea Blog

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