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Please Look After Mother by Korean author Kyung-Sook Shin is a somber tale that talks about the sacrifices behind motherhood.
Review by Anne John
An old woman So-nyo gets lost in a busy train station and her family starts a frantic search for her. In the process they – both her children and her husband – realize how little they actually know about the hopes, wishes and dreams of the woman behind the mother and the wife.
Although the story is set in Korea, it has a universal appeal to it. In the monotony of our everyday lives, most of us do tend to take our mothers – as well as other loved ones – for granted; until a loss or a tragedy shakes us enough to sit up and take notice. That is precisely what Please Look After Mother highlights. I was also slightly surprised by the similarity of Korean culture to Indian traditions. For instance, it was news to me that arranged marriages happen in Korea after horoscopes of the prospective bride and groom are matched!
Please Look After Mother is a blatantly sad story and it has several beautiful lines that describe a mother’s deep and all encompassing love. For instance, when So-nyo talks about her unhappiness on witnessing her daughter struggling with her own children, she says: “People say that when a baby is crying the paternal grandmother will say, ‘The baby is crying, you should feed her’, and the maternal grandmother will say, ‘Why is that baby crying so much, making her mother so tired?’”
But perhaps because the sadness is so apparent it did not really tug at my heartstrings and move me to tears. Sorrow can sometimes be quite potent when conveyed subtly; I felt that Please Look After Mother fell short of poignancy since the sadness is more of the in-your-face kind. However I could most certainly relate to many of the incidents, like this one: “You went for a visit without announcing it beforehand, and you discovered that you had become a guest. Mother was continually embarrassed about the messy yard or the dirty blankets…. You realized you’d become a stranger as you watched Mother try to conceal her messy everyday life.”
It seems like the author was on a single point agenda: make readers feel guilty about neglecting their mothers. The story unfolds from different perspectives but the voice seems to address the reader directly as the pronoun ’you’ is used to narrate the complete story. This made the story more personal and sent me on a guilt trip right away!
Please Look After Mother won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011. It will definitely remind readers of their own mothers and nudge them to examine the quality of the relationships that they share with them.
Publishers: Orion Publishing Group
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