A story of lives lived with unspoken longing

2012-09-05 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Please look after Mother

Kyung-Sook Shin

Phoenix

 

“COMPASSION is the underlying theme of my work. I write because the world is filled with regret and sorrow, because there’s so much that has yet to be resolved … I write so that we may embrace the problems we must bear in our hearts, so that we may consider them together.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that carries an author’s explanation of the work in a postscript, plus questions for reading groups to discuss. Book clubs must be big business in South Korea, which would explain these unusual additions and the “million copy bestseller” status of this book.

I am not sure what might engender that level of sales figures, but then I am not oriental, but a Westerner used to high levels of emotional disclosure and voracious individuality. In the more emotionally repressed East, where the collective trumps the individual, this book is being hailed in the twittersphere as “life-changing”.

It revolves around So-nyo, hard-working, long-suffering mother of five grown-up children, who vanishes in Seoul. As her family searches for her and her absence lengthens, they discover that they never really knew her. They also realise that they took her for granted and failed to appreciate her pivotal role in their lives.

She is so self-effacing and self-sacrificing as to be almost invisible as a character in her own right. They recognise as one twittertater put it: “You don’t know what you’ve got till you’ve lost it.”

As Shin explains, guilt, regret and sorrow form the strongest strands of this story, although occasional shafts of love, joy, and hope light up the otherwise bleak emotional landscape.

Rather disconcertingly, it is written almost entirely in the second or third person. The only first person voice is So-nyo’s. The other chapters carry the voices of her daughter, son and husband. There are also sequences of magical realism, which may be strange for some Western readers. However, they can surely appreciate the beauty of the spare prose that paints vivid pictures not only of the rural and urban landscapes of Korea, but also of the hidden emotional terrain of lives lived with unspoken longing, shame, remorse and passion.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.