Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Please Look After MomReview by: Robin

Kyung-Sook Shin is one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists and this is her first book to appear in English. The story revolves around the search for a missing older woman who was left behind in the Seoul train station when she was separated from her husband in the rush to board a departing train. As the chapters unfold we learn the woman’s “back story” as remembered by her oldest daughter, oldest son, husband, and, later in the book, herself. The stories touch on all aspects of her life in a poor rural South Korean village and span the time from her youth during the Korean War and its aftermath, her marriage, the birth and rearing of her children, and her decline into older age.

While the story provides an excellent view into a family’s life in Korea, this reader found it difficult to enjoy. The use of the omnipotent second person narrative voice (used in 3 of the 5 chapters) was off-putting. Perhaps 2nd person is used more widely in conversational Korean and I was unable to adjust to the translation or maybe the author used it deliberately to impose the guilt and regret felt by the characters onto the reader. Whatever the reason, the relentless use of “you” (even though the narrator’s “you” was referring to one of the characters in the story) felt like an accusatory pointing finger which made me uncomfortable. I also had little sympathy for the martyred “Tiger Mom” and her selfish, insensitive children and spouse. So for me, this was a B- read; it was well written and interesting, but it only rarely touched my heart.
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About this Review: This review was originally submitted as part of Adult Summer Reading.