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Please Look After Mother
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Previous Reads: Around the World > South Korea: Please Look After Mother, Kyung-Sook Shin

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Our Read Around the World book for April this year is Please Look After Mother [Please Look After Mom in US] by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Chi-Young Kim, set in Soth Korea [Republic of Korea]



Please Look After Mother
An international sensation and a bestseller that has sold over 1.5 million copies in the author's Korea, Please Look After Mom is a stunning, deeply moving story of a family's search for their missing mother - and their discovery of the desires, heartaches and secrets they never realized she harbored within.
When sixty-nine year old So-nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station, and vanishes, their children are consumed with loud recriminations, and are awash in sorrow and guilt. As they argue over the "Missing" flyers they are posting throughout the city - how large of a reward to offer, the best way to phrase the text - they realize that none of them have a recent photograph of Mom. Soon a larger question emerges: do they really know the woman they called Mom?
Told by the alternating voices of Mom's family, the novel pieces together, Rashomon-style, a life that appears ordinary but is anything but.

Kyung-Sook Shin
Kyung-sook Shin (the author's preferred Romanization) is a South Korean writer. She is the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 for Please Look After Mother.
Shin has won a wide variety of literary prizes including the Today’s Young Artist Award from the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Hankook Ilbo Literature Prize, Hyundae Literature Award, Manhae Literature Prize, Dong-in Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Oh Young-su Literature Prize. In 2009, the French translation of her work, A Lone Room (La Chambre Solitaire) was one of the winners of the Prix de l'Inapercu, which recognizes excellent literary works which have not yet reached a wide audience.The international rights to the million-copy bestseller Please Look After Mother were sold in 19 countries including the United States and various countries in Europe and Asia.
In 2015, she was involved in a plagarism scandal that saw a collection of her short stories pulled from the shelves.



I will be leading discussion this month and have already made a start. So expect discussion points and random thoughts that pop into my head as I read to start cropping up here over the course of the next few days!


Sophie | 151 comments The version of this book that was available from my library was titled "Please Look After Mom".
There were a number of sections that made me choke up with tears. I lost my mom a number of years ago and I still miss her greatly. I was like the daughter who was just too busy to stay in touch as often as I should have. Fortunately I matured enough that in her later years I took the time to listen to mom's stories of her life and her feelings.
The book description refers to the use of Rashomon-style story telling. I had never heard this term before so I looked it up. Each section is told from a different person's perspective. But Wikipedia says it's more complicated than that. I'm still not sure what it exactly means.
I thought the translation was good. I had to get used to the second person point of view. There was one section near the end where I was not certain who was speaking.


message 3: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Mar 31, 2019 08:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Just finished the first section.


Discussion points!

How do you feel about the use of the second person (you) narrative style used in the daughter's chapter (Chi-Hon)?


Rashomon effect :
This is where the same event is described in different and contradictory ways by people who were involved or witnessed it. It's a real phenomena (as any police officer will tell you!) and takes name from a film that shows four witnesses give very different accounts of the same murder. Rashomon-style storytelling, from my understanding, is where not only is the story told from multiple points of view, but where these viewpoints contradict and disagree with each other.

For those who have read the book to the end: Do you think Please Look after Mother/Mom could be counted as a Roshamon-style of story?


message 4: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Mar 31, 2019 08:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Like I said, only one scetion in so far so can't compare narrative styles/perspectives yet. Will come up with more discussion points as I get further into book.


At present though I have found the second-person narration hugely irritating. It pulls me out of the book rather than draws me in. As far as I'm concerned, there is a reason more books aren't written in third person.

I think with first person narration there's a sense of being told a story by someone else, the thoughts described aren't meant to be your own. But with the narrative literaly saying ''you thought this/you did this", my mind just pushes back and goes 'no I didn't'.


message 5: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El | 123 comments The second-person narration doesn't bother me too much, but I've seen better examples of books written from this perspective (A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O'Nan being the best, I think). I'm still enjoying this book, however, in spite of it. I think the pacing is a bit off, personally. By this I mean I'm having difficult recognizing right away when the narration is telling about a long-past event (when the narrator was a child) or more recent event (as an adult). Takes me a minute to acclimate throughout this section - but maybe I was just reading too quickly yesterday when I started.


Sophie | 151 comments Initially I thought the narration had to do with it being a translation. At first it was a little troublesome but I got used to it. At first I thought it was as if two people were speaking and one was telling the other "you thought this/you did this".


message 7: by Anita (last edited Apr 04, 2019 12:10AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
I just started and haven't been bothered by the narration. It is probably a method of connecting closely with the reader, considering. Initially though, the story drew me right in and hooked me. I easily picture my mom who seems to have spent her life being mom. I miss her dearly now that I've moved states away, and this book makes me want to call her at 1:30 in the morning. I'm so saddened to think how easily "life" gets in the way... I'm very concerned for mom and need her to be ok.


Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "Rashomon effect : This ..."

I did finish the book, I had a hard time stopping once I started. As for the Rashomon effect, I thank you for the definition and I do think this book would count although maybe not all the perspectives tell of a specific similar event (more widely the life of mom as viewed from different perspectives) and perhaps they don't contradict in a strict manner of speaking...

(view spoiler)

The narrative from the husband was the saddest for me to read. I thought that it must be so miserable to be married to someone with such disregard for you. I loathe how easy it was for him to completely disregard her health and well being for their entire marriage.

(view spoiler)


message 9: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I've finished too and I think I probably like it a little less than everyone else who has finished so far. Not that I actively disliked it, but nothing in it really grabbed me.

@Anita: I find it interesting that you felt the mother was fulfilled from the penultimate chapter. For me, it just confirmed everything in the prior chapters, that her whole individual identity had been completely subsumed by being 'mother'/wife no matter that it wasn't really what she had wanted - and certainly doesn't seem to be what she wants for her daughters. Funny how the same thing can be interpreted completely differently by different people.

Having a scour for discussion points, have found a set of questions the American publishers included in one edition. They're a bit spoilery so putting them in a tag.


(view spoiler)

Please don't feel you need to write an essay on each (or any)! Just adding them as potential discussion points should any of them interest.


message 10: by Anita (new) - rated it 1 star

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "I've finished too and I think I probably like it a little less than everyone else who has finished so far. Not that I actively disliked it, but nothing in it really grabbed me.

@Anita: I find it i..."


I don't know that I necessarily found Mom's life was fulfilling as much as I recognized her optimism at her own life. How I percieve her life is irrelevant to her little victories - when the kids were full (this was a huge part of her identity as their mother and her pride at being able to fill their bellies), when they did well in school, succeeded in their careers.

Even though she may have been ashamed and unhappy at her lack of education, she was still able to say that she had lived a good life to see her youngest with wrinkles on her face.

(view spoiler)

I think as a society we strive for more self identity now, and to pull away from the idea that we are defined by motherhood or parenthood, or lack thereof. However, within a family we are still identified by our role in that family whether it be parent or child. Generally speaking, of course.


message 11: by Anita (new) - rated it 1 star

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
I also have to admit that this book meant a lot to me culturally. I definitely connected with it on a personal level, and I'm sure that has a lot to do with my appreciation of it and all the intricacies of those Asian family dynamics.


message 12: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Anita wrote: "I don't know that I necessarily found Mom's life was fulfilling as much as I recognized her optimism at her own life. How I percieve her life is irrelevant to her little victories - when the kids were full (this was a huge part of her identity as their mother and her pride at being able to fill their bellies), when they did well in school, succeeded in their careers.
..."



I get that, I guess to me I found the book just felt a little heavy handed with it all and couldn't connect with the characters. They all felt a bit like underdeveloped archtypes to me. With the mum as the selfless martyr reduced to taking joy only in small things and other peoples achievements.

Here's a few reviews I found by the way (Note spoilers!):
Washington Post
New York Times
New York Times

I think my feelings are probably best reflected in the Washington Post one:

(view spoiler)


message 13: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El | 123 comments I haven't written my review yet, but as of right now my opinion is similar to Louise's. I felt that the change in perspective throughout the narration was somewhat gimmicky, and without it, there wouldn't be much to the story at all.

Maybe I'm a monster, but it didn't make me want to call my mom afterwards. :) I think mostly because I felt that my emotions were being manipulated which made me grouchy.

I actually thought quite a bit of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng as I read this one - learning the truth through the perspectives of others, and no one is all good or all bad but feelings are complicated.


message 14: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
I think I called my mother less while reading this book. Not sure what that says about me either!

Granted I do call her a lot over the last few months because she's going through breast cancer treatment which might have effected some of views on this book too (view spoiler)

While, as I said, I didn't actively dislike this book, it did feel like a rather unsubtle attempt at emotional manipulation which, like El, tends to have the opposite effect on me. Just seemed a bit heavy handed with characters who were far too old to be having these revelations suddenly realising that 'mother' might have had her own identity and interests outside of them.


message 15: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El | 123 comments Yes, the controversy surrounding the book is frustrating and disconcerting. If anyone wants to read more about that: (view spoiler)


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1788 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "I started reading this one. The second person narration hasn't bothered me, but it does bother me that she seems to have plagiarized to write parts of this book and other stories. I keep wondering ..."

I'm less concerned about which parts are which, and more that table stakes for a memoir is authenticity and integrity. For me, once you've lost my confidence in your integrity, I'm no longer interested in your story. Then again, I'm a plagiarism purist, and represent but a tiny, tiny fraction of the reading public.


message 17: by Anita (new) - rated it 1 star

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "I started reading this one. The second person narration hasn't bothered me, but it does bother me that she seems to have plagiarized to write parts of this book and other stories. I keep wondering ..."

I had not heard anything about plagiarism! Thank you, El, for that article. It didn't sound like an admission either from the quote they used, so I'm not even sure - did she plagiarize or not? And of course I'm likely to believe she did since there are multiple accounts of plagiarism accusations over the years on different works of hers... hard to assess without having read all the works myself, of course.

@Kristin, very true about pictures. I have only a few of my mom and they are mostly family pictures that we all got dressed up for. I think modern families have many more pictures to choose from just from online databases and selfies. Generally speaking.


message 18: by El (new) - rated it 2 stars

El | 123 comments This is a wonderful point. My mother does not like her picture taken so if I have any recent ones, they were taken surreptitiously and she would be horrified to know I took them without her knowledge. I can appreciate her feelings on the matter but I also want to document these things. Obviously she won't be around forever and I don't want to forget aspects about her. (Now we're getting morbid, hah.)


Laurie I didn't know about the plagiarism charges either. That completely changes my opinion of the book which I read and really liked a couple of years ago. Off I go to amend my review.


message 20: by Louise, Group Founder (last edited Apr 13, 2019 09:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
El wrote: "Yes, the controversy surrounding the book is frustrating and disconcerting. If anyone wants to read more about that: [spoilers removed]"

Sorry about this. I didn't realise there was any controversy when I nominated it, otherwise would have picked another book.

And thanks for the link. I did put it in first post of thread when it went up as I thought it was important for readers to know, but for some reason I missed the fact the accusations went beyond her short stories (which were all the other articles I came across were talking about) and the link was probably too burried in the author bio.


message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1788 comments Mod
This book shows up on a myriad of recommended women author lists. I see no shame in nominating it and we’ve now been exposed to the controversy, too, which is its own learning.


message 22: by Louise, Group Founder (new) - rated it 3 stars

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Following this discussion have done some more research. Regarding Please Look After Mother, Kyung-Sook Shin was taken to court in South Korea in 2018 and won her case: https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/cult...

As mentioned in previous link, the short story that seems to be the focus of most of the accusations, she claims she can't remember reading the other work but is now questioning her memory.


message 23: by Carol (last edited Apr 15, 2019 04:14PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1788 comments Mod
Louise wrote: "Following this discussion have done some more research. Regarding Please Look After Mother, Kyung-Sook Shin was taken to court in South Korea in 2018 and won her case: https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/..."

I hate to bring my work life to GoodReads but these are two different claims and matters. In the South Korean case, an essayist claimed that similarities between the plot/events in an essay she wrote were also present in Please Look After Mother. That accusation is lobbed 30 times a year in Hollywood to no avail, because you can’t copyright a plot or idea, so there’s no infringement. But the Guardian article flags actual copyright infringement, inclusion of entire passages of a copyrighted work, asserted by a German author. The South Korean court did not address that author’s claim.

Back to your regularly scheduled non-legal, literary programming...


message 24: by Mery (new)

Mery | 1 comments i am planning on reading this book so i would be pleased if someone could maybe tell me what to expect and why this book gained a lot of fame


message 25: by Anita (new) - rated it 1 star

Anita Fajita Pita (anitafajitapitareada) | 799 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "Finished the daughter and son's sections. I am enjoying, but not loving, this book. I feel terrible for the mother and it does make me feel empathy for everything my mother put up with raising me. ..."
I was caught up on the blue sandal as well! I like your theory that it is surrealism representing the past Mom in the present. All present aspects of the story involving Mom sightings, and retracing her steps through the city did have a surreal aura around them.

I had formed a much darker theory that no one actually noticed what shoes she was wearing. Honestly, how would they know if they hadn't seen her that day, and her husband isn't a reloable source. The sandal situation made me extremely bitter on Mom's behalf... What if she had been suffering from an unhealed cut all these years because she never got proper treatment? I like your theory much better.


Cendaquenta | 43 comments Just started, finished the first section/chapter, from the daughter's perspective. The second-person narration isn't bothering me at all, I quite like it.


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