Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

In the past week I've read three books with sentences for titles: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Please Ignore Vera Dietz; and now Please Look After Mom. Odd. They are all told in multiple voices, too, if you count a play's dialogue that way. More odd. Anyway, I loved all three.

Kyung-Sook Shin's haunting novel is an international bestseller about an elderly Korean woman who goes missing at the Seoul train station. Park So-nyo and her husband had travelled from their village to attend a birthday celebration hosted by their offspring. When So-nyo's husband stepped onto a subway, thinking his wife was right behind him, she was left behind.

Four voices narrate the story: eldest daughter Chi-hon, eldest son Hyong-chol, the husband, and lastly, we hear from the missing wife. There are so many small details of domestic life that make the setting richly present. It's a story of family relationships, replete with regrets over things said and not said - a reminder that we often take our parents and spouses for granted. In addition to these universal themes of guilt and responsibility and love, I like Gary Shteyngart's astute observation (quoted on the jacket) that this book addresses "how the movement of people from small towns and villages to big cities can cause heartbreak and even tragedy."

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