Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim) is an international bestseller and winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. It is a moving novel told from the points of view of a daughter, son, father, and mother. The mother, sixty-nine-year-old So-Nyo, goes missing from a Seoul train station on her way to visit her children and her family launches a search to find her. Her children reminisce about growing up poor in the countryside and wrestle with guilt for not taking better care of her, their father feels sorry for neglecting her, and secrets are revealed.
The author explains her choice to tell the story through four narrators: "I wanted to show a 'Mom' who was a complex and profound human being. As it was impossible to do this in a single person's voice, I needed multiple narrators. In the novel, the voices of the daughter, son, and father are narrated in the second person, 'you' and the third person, 'her.' It's only the mother who uses the first person. I had in mind the fact that, when a woman becomes a mother, she no longer gets to speak or sometimes even think in terms of that 'I.' Of the four different voices in the book, the mother's is perhaps the most vivid and powerful. When I was writing it, it felt as though my mother's hand had held--even gripped--my authorial hand, so that she could tell her own story." The chapter in which the reader gets to finally hear from the mother herself, written in the first person, is indeed the most affecting.
Shin hopes readers take away from the book the realization of "the plain truth that your mother was not born that way, that she too had to become a mother. Taking the time to think about your mother might also mean taking the time to think about yourself."
The book sheds light on both bonds among family members and life in contemporary South Korea. The shift from countryside to city life that So-Nyo's children take in relative stride is a different world to her and seems to add to the confusion she experiences as a result of her health problems. The family members deal with her disappearance in their own ways. Shin uncovers the complexity of individuals and of their familial relationships.