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Please Look After Mom

Click this cover for a(n) Audiobook sample of Please Look After Mom.

Please Look After Mom

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A million-plus-copy best seller in South Korea and poised to become an international sensation--Please Look After Mom is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family's search for their mother, and of...
A million-plus-copy best seller in South Korea and poised to become an international sensation--Please Look After Mom is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family's search for their mother, and of...
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Description-
  • A million-plus-copy best seller in South Korea and poised to become an international sensation--Please Look After Mom is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family's search for their mother, and of the desires, heartaches, and secrets they discover she harbored within.

    On a family visit to the city, Mom is right behind her husband when the train pulls out of Seoul Station without her, and she is lost, possibly forever. As her children argue over how to find her and her husband returns to their countryside home to wait for her, they each recall their lives with her, their memories often more surprising than comforting. Have they lived up to her expectations? Was she happy? Through the piercing voices of daughter, son, and husband, and through Mom's own words in the novel's shattering conclusion, we learn what happened that day, and explore an even deeper mystery--of motherhood itself.

    At once steeped in the beauty and complexities of the East and rich with a universal tenderness, Please Look After Mom has a revelatory emotional power. You will never think of your mother the same way again after you've read this book.


    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1

    Nobody Knows

    It's been one week since Mom went missing.

    The family is gathered at your eldest brother Hyong-chol's house, bouncing ideas off each other. You decide to make flyers and hand them out where Mom was last seen. The first thing to do, everyone agrees, is to draft a flyer. Of course, a flyer is an old-fashioned response to a crisis like this. But there are few things a missing person's family can do, and the missing person is none other than your mom. All you can do is file a missing-person report, search the area, ask passersby if they have seen anyone who looks like her. Your younger brother, who owns an online clothing store, says he posted something about your mother's disappearance, describing where she went missing; he uploaded her picture and asked people to contact the family if they'd seen her. You want to go look for her in places where you think she might be, but you know how she is: she can't go anywhere by herself in this city. Hyong-chol designates you to write up the flyer, since you write for a living. You blush, as if you were caught doing something you shouldn't. You aren't sure how helpful your words will be in finding Mom.

    When you write July 24, 1938, as Mom's birth date, your father corrects you, saying that she was born in 1936. Official records show that she was born in 1938, but apparently she was born in 1936. This is the first time you've heard this. Your father says everyone did that, back in the day. Because many children didn't survive their first three months, people raised them for a few years before making it official. When you're about to rewrite "38" as "36," Hyong-chol says you have to write 1938, because that's the official date. You don't think you need to be so precise when you're only making homemade flyers and it isn't like you're at a government office. But you obediently cross out "36" and write "38," wondering if July 24 is even Mom's real birthday.

    A few years ago, your mom said, "We don't have to celebrate my birthday separately." Father's birthday is one month before Mom's. You and your siblings always went to your parents' house in Chongup for birthdays and other celebrations. All together, there were twenty-two people in the immediate family. Mom liked it when all of her children and grandchildren gathered and bustled about the house. A few days before everyone came down, she would make fresh kimchi, go to the market to buy beef, and stock up on extra toothpaste and toothbrushes. She pressed sesame oil and roasted and ground sesame and perilla seeds, so she could present her children with a jar of each as they left. As she waited for the family to arrive, your mom would be visibly animated, her words and her gestures revealing her pride when she talked to neighbors or acquaintances. In the shed, Mom kept glass bottles of every size filled with plum or wild-strawberry juice, which she made seasonally. Mom's jars were filled to the brim with tiny fermented croakerlike fish or anchovy paste or fermented clams that she was planning to send to the family in the city. When she heard that onions were good for one's health, she made onion juice, and before winter came, she made pumpkin juice infused with licorice. Your mom's house was like a factory; she prepared sauces and fermented bean paste and hulled rice, producing things for the family year-round. At some point, the children's trips to Chongup became less frequent, and Mom and Father started to come to Seoul more often. And then you began to celebrate each of their birthdays by going out for dinner. That was easier. Then Mom even suggested, "Let's celebrate my birthday on your father's." She said it would be a burden to celebrate...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine When their elderly mother goes missing at the train station in Seoul, her concerned family mounts an intensive effort to locate her. As they reminisce about her, they discover that many of their perceptions of her have been mistaken. The story is told from the introspective points of view of her family members. The four narrators inhabit the roles of the daughter, son, husband, and mother. They all capture the individual qualities of each character, in particular, the husband's thoughtlessness and the daughter's tempestuousness. The pacing of all the narrators is appropriately slow and thoughtful, reflecting the inner experiences of each character who is coping with Mom's disappearance. Korean writer Shin, long considered the voice of her generation, has vaulted to international renown with this novel. S.E.G. (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • Mythili G. Rao, The New York Times Book Review

    "Shin's novel, her first to be translated into English, embraces multiplicity. It is told from the perspectives of four members of [a missing woman's] family; from their memories emerges a portrait of a heroically industrious woman. [Mom] runs their rural home 'like a factory,' sews and knits and tills the fields. The family is poor, but she sees to it that her children's bellies are filled . . . Only after her children grow up and leave their home in [the countryside] does Mom's strength and purposefulness begin to flag. Questions punctuate [the] narrative and lead to a cascade of revelations, discoveries that come gradually. . . Shin's prose, intimate, and hauntingly spare, powerfully conveys grief's bewildering immediacy. [Daughter] Chi-hon's voice is the novel's most distinct, but Father's is the most devastating. . . . And yet this book isn't as interested in emotional manipulation as it is in the invisible chasms that open up between people who know one another best. . . . A raw tribute to the mysteries of motherhood."

  • Lisa Shea, Elle "The universal resonance of family life lifts a novel rooted in the experience of Korean modernity to international success. A best-seller in her native South Korea, Shin's Please Look After Mom tells the story of Park So-nyo, a devoted, do-all wife and mother who mysteriously goes missing. . . . Primarily composed of four sections narrated by Park, her eldest son, her husband, and one of their two daughters, the book--Shin's first to be translated into English--is a moving portrayal of the surprising nature, sudden sacrifices, and secret reveries of motherhood. . . . As the novel progresses and Park's whereabouts remain unclear, much that can be forgotten between mothers and children, husbands and wives, and among siblings resurfaces in the voices of this family desperate to locate the one person who was and always will be the center of their lives."
  • Anthony Bukoski, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
    "Lovely . . . This heartbreaking yet joyous novel is Kyung-sook Shin's first to appear in English. You could say it marks a first, loving gift to readers of English. Her publisher's press release notes that the book 'has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the author's native South Korea.' Understandably so. Please Look After Mom, especially its magical, transcendent ending, lifts the spirit as only the best writing can do."
  • Karen Gaudette, The Seattle Times "We may know her favorite color, or flower, or meal. But how well do sons and daughters, even when grown, really understand what motivates their mothers? Please Look After Mom is a suspenseful, haunting, achingly lovely novel about the hidden lives, wishes, struggles and dreams of those we think we know best. . . . Shin's deft use of second person lends this story an instant intimacy. . . . There are few ways to describe this story that don't involve the word 'devastating.' Seemingly small details explode into larger meaning at a pace that takes one's breath away. The depth of each character's guilt and regret over Mom's absence--and what they wish they'd said and done differently--is palpable. The story deftly juxtaposes images of modern Korea with wartime Korea, of city living with country life, of ultra-processed ramen with the crumbly dust of freshly dug potatoes, of Mom lugging heavy jars of homemade pickles and elixirs on the train ride from her country house to nourish her children in the big city. As the family grapples with its newfound understanding of the woman they thought they knew, we're given a window onto the culture and customs of Korea, its food, festivals, traditions and family dynamics. This book is not for those who crave easy resolution; just like family, it prompts worry, consternation, guilt, heartbreak, and tears. Shin's style of writing makes it simple for readers to transpose their own families into such a scenario, and the onslaught of emotion that the narrative evokes is strangely cathartic. But, just like family, this novel also delivers ultimate gifts: moments of gorgeous lucidity, love that knows no depth, beauty in the details of many long-held memories."
  • Art Taylor, The Washington Post "Intimate . . . Reflective meditations on motherhood and a ruminative quest to confront mysteries . . . ­[The novel's] accumulating voices form a kind of instrumental suite, each segment joined by the same melody of family nostalgia, guilt and apology, and each ­occasionally plucking away at several larger motifs: country vs. city living, illiteracy vs. ­education, arranged mar­riages vs. modern dating, traditions vs. new freedoms. . . . [Please Look After Mom] will strike a chord with many readers, stimulating their own recollections or regrets. Truth be told, I called my mom well before the book's final page, feeling the need to look after her a little myself."
  • Anna Mundow, Boston Sunday Globe
    "Haunting . . . Fervent . . . but also sinuous and elusive . . . Details, unembellished and unsentimental, are the individual cells that form this novel's beating heart. . . . [Shin] re-create[s] a life through fragmented family recollections [and] leads the reader on a switchback journey to the past, historical and personal. . . . The novel's language--so formal in its simplicity--bestows a grace and solemnity on childhood scenes . . . The rhythms of agrarian life and labor that Shin deftly conveys have a subtle, cumulative power. With each description, the relentless tide of the past erodes the yielding ground of the present to reveal the contours of one woman's life. . . . Memory is the only guide and the least reliable one . . . Revelation arrives quietly, but truth remains the sole property of the lost."
  • Lesley Stack, Seattle Post-Intelligencer "A great literary masterpiece [that] perfectly combines universal themes of love and loss, family dynamics, gender equality, tradition, and charity with rich Korean culture and values."
  • Karen Holt, O, the Oprah Magazine "Titles to Pick Up Now: This best-seller set in the author's native Korea examines a family's history through the story of the matriarch, mysteriously gone missing from a Seoul train station."
  • Kelly Falconer, The Times Literary Supplement "[Please Look After Mom] can be read on several levels, as a metaphor for the impressions of the past as they linger in the present, as a story of mothers and children, husbands and wives. It describes one woman's self-sacrifice so that the next generation may realize their dreams, instead of putting them to the side as she had to. . . . It reveals the emergence of a post-war metropolitan society in the twentieth century . . . A captivating story, written with an understanding of the shortcomings of traditional ways and modern life. It is nostalgic but unsentimental, brutally well observed and, in this flawlessly smooth translation, it offers a sobering account of a vanished past. It is the seventh novel by the much-praised Kyung-sook Shin and the first to be translated into English after a best-selling 1.5 million print run that changed the face of publishing in Korea in 2008. We must hope there will be more translations to follow."
  • Alison Reeger Cook, Gainesville Times "Kyung-sook Shin has crafted soul-touching moments out of the simplest of her characters' gestures, and makes all of her characters sympathetic, genuine and unforgettable. Please Look After Mom is the perfect novel to remind us just how much a mother unites an entire family and how they are always a part of us even when they might be separated from us. No matter what the culture or what part of the world, the mother holds a sacred place in the life of every father, daughter and son."
  • John Barber, Globe and Mail ( "Quite apart from the universal sentiment it expresses so well, Please Look After Mom is intriguing for its X-ray insight into the mind and experience of an uneducated woman born to generations of subsistence farmers in a remote, mountainous region of the old Hermit Kingdom. It is a cultural leap that most modern readers could scarcely imagine, but it occurs with miraculous ease over the book's 237 pages. . . . Shin uses the remorseful memories of the lost mother's loved ones to personalize the cultural chasm that separates modern Koreans from their...
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