Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! I finished a book.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is a Korean novel about a seventy-something woman who goes missing in a Seoul subway station when she fails to board the train with her husband en route to visit their adult son. The novel is told through four separate voices – two of the woman’s children, her husband, and herself.
The reader doesn’t even learn the woman’s name until the book is almost over: Park So-nyo. This is fitting, because “Mom”, as she is mostly called throughout the book, has become invisible to her five children and her husband. Suffering over time from crippling headaches and amnesia, Mom has slowly slipped away even from her husband, who sees her every day. The first three chapters explore the guilt and sadness that two of her children and her husband feel after she disappears, mostly due to taking her for granted and not thinking about her life from her perspective.
Please Look After Mom is a tribute to motherhood, sacrifice, and living vicariously through one’s children. It’s a pretty sad book, too, as none of the people in Mom’s life expressed to her that they appreciated her, that they needed her. SPOILER ALERT!! The final chapter is narrated by Mom herself, and the reader finally gets to see what she was actually thinking and what secrets she herself kept from the others. A great sense of loss and regret permeates the whole book, as well as the bleakness of Mom’s life and the isolation and loneliness she must have felt, year after year.
Please Look After Mom is poignant and jarring and will probably stay with me for a long time. I can’t say I loved reading it, but I am glad that I did. The epilogue was a little heavy-handed, drawing comparisons between Mom and the Virgin Mary, and I must admit that I skimmed through it a bit. There is also a letter in the epilogue that explicitly states the message of the book – appreciate your mother! – which I could also have done without. But in all it was an interesting book, a nice change of pace setting-wise, and a moving treatise on motherhood.
I listened to this one mostly on audio (the first 3/4ths), and it was pretty good. There were different performers for each of the chapters. The third chapter, narrated by the husband, was the most compelling of the four. My main complaint was that it was very slow on audio – reading it was so much faster.