Book 30: South Korea (English) – Please look after mother/mom = Omma rul put’akhae (SHIN Kyung-Sook)
It’s been one week since Mother 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 Mother 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 mother. All you can do is file a missing person report, search the area, ask passers-by if they have seen anyone who looks like her.
I wanted to read the Korean classic Taebaek sanmaek (The Taebek Mountains), but apparently and incredibly it has yet to be translated into English.
In any case, this lovely sad book is no doubt more accessible to the modern reader, and could be relevant to anyone, even from a less Confucian society than Korea. Like the best of world literature (for me at least), it is both universal and particular – it addresses issues in our common humanity, while at the same time giving us an intriguing peek into the door (which can never be fully opened) of another culture.
It is a heartbreakingly beautiful book. I promise it will tear at your heartstrings. It is written in the various voices of members of the family of a mother who has just gone missing when the novel opens and follow increasingly desperate stratagems to get her back. Along the way they learn a lot of surprises about her – for you can never fully know another human being, no matter how close they are.
I suspect you’ll never forget this book (written, unusually, in the second person – i.e. addressed to ‘you’). It is a real tear-jerker, in the best sense of the word. And it seemed to me appropriate to post on it on my own wonderful mother’s 90th birthday.
SHIN Kyung-Sook (1963 – ), Please look after Mother, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012 (2011, originally published in Korean 2008), ISBN 978-0-7538-2818-2