Karen's Reviews > Please Look After Mom

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
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Mar 28, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: aging, asia, powerful-narrative-poignant, translated, korea

Wow....wait, I need to capitalize this: WOW...This story took me through an emotional roller coaster that reminded me of all my personal shortcomings in the relationship department with my own family and my Mom. The last time I was this wrecked was when my father passed away of cancer 2 years ago.

The story begins when the 70-year old mother of a family disappears from a Seoul train station. The family, 5 grown children and her husband, is desperate to find her and yet, on the other hand, are blaming themselves and each other for not spending more time or paying more attention to her. The book is divided into 4 major sections with 4 narrative voices: the oldest daughter, the oldest son, the husband and the mom herself, with a shorter epilogue again narrated by the oldest daughter. A second person narration is heavily used in the book..in all except for the personal narration of Mom. It takes a little getting used to but then ultimately one would start to identify with the voice:

"You were the one who always hung up first. You would say, "Mom, I'll call you back," and then you didn't. You didn't have time to sit and listen to everything your Mom had to say..."

"Mom was the kitchen and the kitchen was Mom. You never wondered, did Mom like being in the kitchen?"

As the story unfolds with each person's narration, we understand a little more about Mom, her love for all, her everyday life, her relationship with each of her children, her relationship with her husband and her husband's demanding older sister. We come to know that her children and her husband know very little of her, except that she was always there for them, taking care of them. When Mom's voice starts narrating at the end, we get the complete picture, almost...

It's no coincidence that the Korean word for "death" is a homonym for the number 4 (same in Chinese). This is a very sad story to read, yet I can't stop reading, especially toward the end. The translation is great, leaving Shin's original writing style unchanged. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves his/her Mom.
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Reading Progress

March 28, 2011 – Shelved
April 16, 2011 – Started Reading
April 16, 2011 –
12.0% "Interesting book, and a unique style of storytelling. The book is translated from Korean to English, about 5 adult children's reactions after discovering that their 70 something years-old mom disappeared from the Seoul Train Station."
April 19, 2011 –
45.0% "I'm actually getting used to the second person narrative voice..it's very interesting. It's almost like the narrator talking guiltily about his/her mom's disappearance. There narrative voices are actually only from two of her children, the youngest daughter, an author and the eldest son, whom she had a lot of hopes on..."
April 20, 2011 – Finished Reading
April 21, 2011 –
73.0% "Can't stop reading this book, even though there's something on every page that reminds me I'm not spending enough time with my own mother, or not doing enough things to make her happy. I really want to know what happens to the mother and she just started narrating...in her voice."

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Blythe (new) - added it

Blythe After Reliquary, if the next in the series isn't so tempting to me, I am reading this, but, will it make me cry? :D


Karen Blythe wrote: "After Reliquary, if the next in the series isn't so tempting to me, I am reading this, but, will it make me cry? :D"

I think it really depends on your relationship with your family (mainly the guilt in you), and how sentimental you are. I did, but not as much as "The Art of Racing in the Rain" or "Unbroken".


message 3: by Stef (new) - added it

Stef Milenewicz I just added this to my TBR list!! Cant wait to read!! Thanks for your great review!!


message 4: by M (new)

M Karen, I totally agree with how you felt after reading this sentimental book, Please Look After Mother. I think there is indeed, a special connection between Mother and daughter just like the quote “either a mother and daughter know each other very well, or they are strangers” (Shin 17). Being a daughter myself, I could wholeheartedly agree about the powerful presence that Mother has in my life, similar to how she is depicted in this book. Like what you said, the book reveals how the family members were too engrossed and caught up in their lives that they realized they knew very little of Mother after she disappeared. Through this event, the author is conveying that we should treasure and appreciate Mother, whom we sometimes take her presence for granted. However, in turn, I think the author is also trying to elucidate how a Mother should appreciate her children, without bias towards any of them. In the book, Mother especially favors her eldest son, and she always tries to provide the best food and the best clothes only to him, and not to the other three children. Consequently, this causes the daughter to resent her Mother when she grows up, and she hints out to the readers that she too, immensely longed for her Mother’s love. You also mentioned that this book is divided into four major sections with four narrative voices of the family members, with number four meaning “death” in Korean. Adding on to what you said, I think the utilization of number four is definitely intentional and carries a symbolic meaning to this book. The four family members-mother, father daughter and son, apparently do not get along well, and the situations that each of them is facing are extremely unpleasant, or even unlucky. Thus, the employment of number four foreshadows that the connection which bonds the family members together will be destroyed, just like merciless death. This again, is demonstrated as Mother could not reunite with her family at the end of the book, and by the unmendable scars that are left in the hearts of each family members as a result to her depart.


Karen M wrote: "Karen, I totally agree with how you felt after reading this sentimental book, Please Look After Mother. I think there is indeed, a special connection between Mother and daughter just like the quote..."

You are so right. Our Mothers influence us daughters so much, whether if she's a good or lacking Mom. I'm happy that you loved the book as much as I did! It's a coincidence that I happen to be reading ANOTHER book about Korea right now. This time it's North Korea. December is such a busy month for me that I haven't updated my GR account for a while! Thank you for liking my review, M.


Lisa Lovely review, Karen! Thanks!


Karen Lisa wrote: "Lovely review, Karen! Thanks!"

Thank you! I hope you have a great Holiday season, Lisa.


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