Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

pls look after mom“A suspenseful, haunting, achingly lovely novel about the hidden lives, wishes, struggles and dreams of those we think we know best.” –The Seattle Times

*Spoiler Alert

Kyung-sook Shin is the author of numerous works of fiction and is one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists. She has been honored with the Man Asian Literature Prize, the Dong-In Literature Prize and the Yi Sang Literary Prize, as well as France’s Prix del l’Inapercu. Please Look after Mom was her first book to appear in English and published in nineteen countries. Currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University, she lives in Seoul.

“Either a mother and daughter knows each other very well, or they are strangers.” This quote makes me ponder and think deeply. This book is divided into four parts, narrated by one of the daughters, probably Chi-hon; then Hyong-Chol, the eldest son; Park-Sonyo’s husband; and the last, the mother (not Park-Sonyo, but possibly her other daughter who had became a mother, Tae-Sop).This quote, in my opinioin, tells us that a mother and daughter either have a very strong bond, or else, they hardly know each other. Not exactly like strangers, but somebody who had been together with somebody else for a very long time and not know a lot about each other.

“You thought that you didn’t love your wife very much, because you married her after only meeting her once, but every-time you left home and some time passed, she reappeared in your thoughts.” This is what Park-Sonyo’s husband thinks and feels after his wife gets missing in the busy streets of Seoul. “He thought he had to become a prosecutor to keep mom at home.” That is what young Hyong-Chol thought. There is a time when his father brings home another woman, and his birth-mom slips off from the back door. This other woman tries ‘to squeeze herself into Hyong-Chol’s cold heart’. He comes into a point where he refuses  to eat. His mom appears out of nowhere and forces him to eat the meals the woman gives him. That is when he tells his mom that he wants to be a prosecutor. His words gives his mom strength to bully back his father and drove him out of the house with the other woman.

What would happen if I am one of the characters in this book? I do not know what I would do if my mom gets separated from my father in the busy Jakarta station. It gives me a pity feeling, as I read about what the characters in this book has gone through. The mother in this book, Park- Sonyo, is said to be able to ‘nurture things’. She is said to be able to care for living things. Then why can’t she look after herself and made a simple phone call after she is separated in Seoul? This makes me think that she may purposely separate herself, in other words, runs away. But why does she run away when she is really happy with her life?

The answer is Alzheimer.

When Chi-Hon brings her to a hospital, it is said that she has stroke. Sometimes, after the result, Park-Sonyo starts to forget some stuffs. As her husband said in part 3, “She looked at the refrigerator as if she wanted to do something but forgot.” Is it possible that Chi-Hon and Hyong-Chol’s mother forgets that she has a family the minute she is wrenched from her husband’s grasp in Seoul? As she goes missing, Chi-Hon starts recalling things. Does her mother really like to be in the kitchen? What does mom actually like? Mom gets headaches? She started to think. How well do they know the woman they had called mom? The question bursts indirectly in everybody’s head.

And here is a spoiler. At the end, they never finds their mom. “There is a dead bird in front of my gate today. I just have this bad feeling, I think something has happened to mom.” I liked this book in many ways. But the best thing I like about this book beside the quotes is its title. It tells me a lot of things, from thinking of my own mother to the prayer I say every night .


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