Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (Published in America by Knopf, and translated by Chi-Young Kim, it’s the author’s first novel translated in English, but by no means her first), has conquered readers from all over the world with an apparently very simple story, told in a piercing, emotionally direct style.
The main character is a farmer, a woman from the Korean countryside who has come to Seoul to visit her grown-up children. Once she arrives at the subway station, however, her husband loses her in the crowd and she disappears. Her absence hits her children and husband like a hurricane. Each member of the family has to come to terms with their mother, and their individual slights – their own ways of having always taken this woman for granted. They’ve only ever considered as her role with regards to them, mother or wife, and never as a whole, independent person.
Page after page, we learn to adore and admire this tiny, great woman. We discover many more things about her than her family ever knew – starting with her steely determination to have her children study despite her being illiterate.
And after we realize that the figure of this mother breaks all boundaries and after doing so, remains, simply, “Mom”, what would stop any reader from calling his or her own mother and asking, “Mom, who are you really? Have I ever seen you for who you really are?” It’s a magnificent novel, moving and impeccable.