Summary and book reviews of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin

Please Look After Mom

A Novel

By Kyung-sook Shin

Please Look After Mom
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2011,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2012,
    288 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

You will never think of your mother the same way after you read this book.

Already an international sensation and a bestseller that has sold over 1.5 million copies in the author's native 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 daughter, son, her husband and, in the shattering conclusion, by Mom herself, the novel pieces together, Rashomon-style, a life that appears ordinary but is anything but.

This is a mystery of one mother that reveals itself to be the mystery of all our mothers: about her triumphs and disappointments and about who she is on her own terms, separate from who she is to her family. If you have ever been a daughter, a son, a husband or a mother, Please Look After Mom is a revelation - one that will bring tears to your eyes.

1

Nobody Knows

It's been one week since Mom went missing.

The family is gathered at your eldest brother Hyong-chol's house, bouncing ideas off each other. You decide to make flyers and hand them out where Mom was last seen. The first thing to do, everyone agrees, is to draft a flyer. Of course, a flyer is an old-fashioned response to a crisis like this. But there are few things a missing person's family can do, and the missing person is none other than your mom. All you can do is file a missing-person report, search the area, ask passersby if they have seen anyone who looks like her. Your younger brother, who owns an online clothing store, says he posted something about your mother's disappearance, describing where she went missing; he uploaded her picture and asked people to contact the family if they'd seen her. You want to go look for her in places where you think she might be, but you know how she is: she can't go anywhere by herself in this city. Hyong-chol designates you to write ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. While second-person ("you") narration is an uncommon mode, it is used throughout the novel's first section (the tale of the daughter, Chi-hon) and third section (the tale of the husband). What is the effect of this choice? How does it reflect these characters' feelings about Mom? Why do you think Mom is the only character who tells her story in the first person?

  2. What do we learn about the relationship between Chi-hon and her mother? What are the particular sources of tension or resentment between them? Why does Chi-hon say to her brother, "Maybe I'm being punished..." (p. 68)?

  3. Why is it significant that Chi-hon is a successful writer, and how does her career affect her position in the family? What does this mean for her ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

While the book's themes are universal, its details are specific to rural Asia. The book is filled with descriptions of the everyday lives of Korean farmers as the characters take turns recalling the sacrifices of their mother. The reader learns about farming and cooking, childbirth, the holding of ancestral rights, and dealing with the poverty that often accompanies an agrarian lifestyle. It's a fascinating glimpse of a lifestyle unfamiliar to many who are products of Western culture.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times

Shin's prose, intimate and hauntingly spare in this translation by Chi-Young Kim, moves from first to second and third person, and powerfully conveys grief's bewildering immediacy… Passages of the novel may cause the grown children among Shin's readers to cringe… And yet this book isn't as interested in emotional manipulation as it is in the invisible chasms that open up between people who know one another best.

Library Journal

Indelible... will appeal to all readers who appreciate compelling, page-turning prose. Stay tuned: Mom should be one of this year's most deserving bestsellers.

Booklist

[A]n impressive exploration of family love, poverty, and triumphing over hardship.

Kirkus Reviews

A mother's disappearance exposes family consciences, secrets and dependencies... Partly a metaphor for Korea's social shift from rural to urban, partly an elegy to the intensity of family bonds as constructed and maintained by self-denying women, this is tender writing.

Publishers Weekly

Affecting... Poignant and psychologically revealing... Readers should find resonance in this family story, a runaway bestseller in Korea poised for a similar run here.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
Please Look After Mom is an authentic, moving story that brings to vivid life the deep family connections that lie at the core of Korean culture. But it also speaks beautifully to an urgent issue of our time: migration, and how the movement of people from small towns and villages to big cities can cause heartbreak and even tragedy. This is a tapestry of family life that will be read all over the world. I loved this book.

Author Blurb Abraham Verghese, bestselling author of Cutting for Stone
Kyung-sook Shin has managed some kind of alchemy in this novel. Weaving together four vivid voices - of daughter, son, husband, and mother, each with the immediacy of a whispered confession - she has created a heartbreaking family mystery. Here is a deeply felt journey into a culture foreign to many - yet with a theme that is universal in its appeal. A terrific novel that stayed with me long after I'd finished its final, haunting pages. This is a real discovery.

Author Blurb Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and Brother, I'm Dying
A suspenseful and moving book. We join this family as soon as we open these pages and we never quite leave it. Or it never leaves us. Cleverly structured and brimming with secrets and revelations, Please Look After Mom is a powerful and memorable read.

Reader Reviews
mainlinebooker

How could this only get one thumbs up?
For anyone who is a mother,who has lost a mother , or indeed simply thinks of her mother, this book is a must..I can't remember when I cried so much..

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Kyung-sook Shin

International bestselling author Kyung-sook Shin has garnered unprecedented levels of success for her novel, Please Look After Mom. Originally published in South Korea in 2008 and having sold over a million and a half copies, it is the first of her books to be translated into English and has been published in nineteen countries worldwide.

Kyung-sook Shin Born in 1963 in Jeolla Province in South Korea to a large family, Shin left home at age 16 to pursue an education in Seoul, as her parents were subsistence farmers and did not have the financial means to send her to high school. She attended the Seoul Institute of the Arts as a creative writing major, taking classes at night and working during the day, and in 1985 she published her first novella ...

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