Excerpt of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin
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Name: Park So-nyo
Date of birth: July 24, 1938 (69 years old)
Appearance: Short, salt-and-pepper permed hair, prominent cheekbones, last seen wearing a sky-blue shirt, a white jacket, and a beige pleated skirt.
Last seen: Seoul Station subway
Nobody can decide which picture of Mom you should use. Everyone agrees it should be the most recent picture, but nobody has a recent picture of her. You remember that at some point Mom started to hate getting her picture taken. She would sneak away even for family portraits. The most recent photograph of Mom is a family picture taken at Father's seventieth-birthday party. Mom looked nice in a pale-blue hanbok, with her hair done at a salon, and she was even wearing red lipstick. Your younger brother thinks your mom looks so different in this picture from the way she did right before she went missing. He doesn't think people would identify her as the same person, even if her image is isolated and enlarged. He reports that when he posted this picture of her, people responded by saying, "Your mother is pretty, and she doesn't seem like the kind of person who would get lost." You all decide to see if anyone has another picture of Mom. Hyong-chol tells you to write something more on the flyer. When you stare at him, he tells you to think of better sentences, to tug on the reader's heartstrings. Words that would tug on the reader's heartstrings? When you write, Please help us find our mother, he says it's too plain. When you write, Our mother is missing, he says that "mother" is too formal, and tells you to write "mom." When you write, Our mom is missing, he decides it's too childish. When you write, Please contact us if you see this person, he barks, "What kind of writer are you?" You can't think of a single sentence that would satisfy Hyong-chol.
Your second-eldest brother says, "You'd tug on people's heartstrings if you write that there will be a reward."
When you write, We will reward you generously, your sister-in-law says you can't write like that: people take notice only if you write a specific amount.
"So how much should I say?"
"One million won?"
"That's not enough."
"Three million won?"
"I think that's too little, too."
"Then five million won."
Nobody complains about five million won. You write, We will reward you with five million won, and put in a period. Your second-eldest brother says you should write it as, Reward: 5 million won. Your younger brother tells you to put 5 million won in a bigger font. Everyone agrees to e-mail you a better picture of Mom if they find something. You're in charge of adding more to the flyer and making copies, and your younger brother volunteers to pick them up and distribute them to everyone in the family. When you suggest, "We can hire someone to give out flyers," Hyong-chol says, "We're the ones who need to do that. We'll give them out on our own if we have some free time during the week, and all together over the weekend."
(Editor's Note: At the time of writing 5 million won is about US$4600)
You grumble, "How will we ever find Mom at that rate?"
"We can't just sit tight; we're already doing everything we can," Hyong-chol retorts.
"What do you mean, we're doing everything we can?"
"We put ads in the newspaper."
"So doing everything we can is buying ad space?"
"Then what do you want to do? Should we all quit work tomorrow and just roam around the city? If we could find Mom like that, I'd do it."
You stop arguing with Hyong-chol, because you realize that you're pushing him to take care of everything, as you always do. Leaving Father at Hyong-chol's house, you all head home. If you don't leave then, you will continue to argue. You've been doing that for the past week. You'd meet to discuss how to find Mom, and one of you would unexpectedly dig up the different ways someone else had wronged her in the past. The things that had been suppressed, that had been carefully avoided moment by moment, became bloated, and finally you all yelled and smoked and banged out the door in rage.
Excerpted from Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin Copyright © 2011 by Kyung-sook Shin. Excerpted by permission of Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.