"Please Look After Mom" by Kyung-Sook Shin

Review by Bia Machado

My first read of the year. For what I had read in reviews out there, somehow I knew it would make me cry―a lot. That's okay, 'cause it doesn't take much to make me cry if it's emotional and well-written, but there was more to it. Well, let's see if I can explain it...

About the plot, this book i about the disappearance of a 69-year-old woman, Park So-nyo, who vanished at a subway station in Seoul when she and her husband were going to one of their children's house. The problem is that, since she's tired and hasn't been feeling well lately, she's walking slower than usual and can't keep up with her husband, who doesn't even bother to check whether she's following him, as usual. When he does turn around, he can't find his wife in the crowd. That's when Park's family, especially a daughter and a son, start looking for her.

The book is divided into chapters, switching narrators, which I thought was interesting because it makes readers learn about the different sides of the situation and how each character feels, the memories that come to mind, the guilt... The first chapter is in the second person, for example, and highlights the oldest daughter, Park's third child. The second chapter, which addresses the search and feelings of the eldest son, is narrated in the third person. The third chapter goes back to the second person and that is when we follow the husband, who goes back home in a rural area in South Korea, hoping that his wife will return home or is already waiting for him there.

In the fourth chapter, which is also in the second person, we focus on Park herself, reading her side of the story, her memories, joy and sorrow. We also learn whether she will go back and why. I have to confess that when I read that chapter I was surprised by the ending that the author chose for the story. I thought it was interesting, because it is followed by the last chapter, when we focus again on her third child. However, we feel as if we were Park's accomplice because we already know what has happened to her, we know what she has decided and we cannot interfere anymore with the story. We can only go on to see the end of the story through the eyes of this daughter, who seems to be the one that felt her mother's disappearance the deepest. It is odd, isn't it? But that is how I felt...

This is one of those books that you either love or hate for several different reasons. It isn't easy to see how the family treated the mother, who was is strong and so sensitiv at the same time. We see how much she put herself in the background, putting her life aside to take care of her children and, above all, make sure they wouldn't lack anything so that they could make their dreams come true, so they could be everything she never could.

Some readers have written revies to call this book "cheesy." What is actually cheesy about it? The fact that the book stirs up our emotions? If that is it, let's celebrate cheesiness! ;) In my case, I loved it. I loved it because I see a little bit of myself in it, even though my Mom hasn't disappeared―I know exactly where she's at. Our relationship is so distant, something that goes back all the way to my childhood and seems to have remained the same. Something that neither she or I want to change, something we have already accepted... Yes, I saw myself in many situations described there.

This book is a strong tale that doesn't spare anything, that doesn't sugar coat any feeling. Some people have also complained about wrong information about areas in the Vatican, which is the backdrop for the last chapter. I don't know, that didn't bother me, since it's such a small part of the narrative. However, if that's true indeed, I just hope that the author will be more careful in her next book. Still, it doesn't take anything away from the story.

The version I read was translated into Portuguese from Please Look After Mom, using English as a bridge language. Nonetheless, nothing struck me as out of place, maybe because in my view Asian authors have a more peculiar narrative and can impose their own style. I didn't see the translation as something that interfered with it. It didn't hide this style.


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BIA MACHADO is a Brazilian author and copyeditor. She graduated in Teaching in 2006 at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul. She has been teaching full-time at Public Schools since 2006. She has also been working as a freelancer copywriter since 1995 and, in 2012, started providing copywriting services to Estronho Publishers.

Bia has contributed her works to collections organized by publishers such as Hama, Multifoco and Estronho. In 2011, she self-published a mystery and horror book entitled Certa Estranheza ["A Certain Oddity"], which is available for download as an eBook. One year later, one of her short stories was translated into English and featured by Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS).

She writes about literature and posts book reviews in her blog No Paraíso de Borges ["At Borges's Paradise"].