Set in South Korea, Please Look After Mother (also called Please Look After Mom) follows the family of 69-year-old So-Nyo after she disappears from Seoul station. She has five children, and they rally round with So-Nyo’s husband to try and find her, creating flyers and searching places they think she may be.
The book is made up of four chapters and an epilogue, and the narrative is unusual in that it flits between second and first person. Immediately, I didn’t like the use of second person narrative – I found it distracting and at times confusing. And the switch in narrators as the chapters changed added to this confusion.
However once I got beyond this I found the start of the story interesting. It showed the tensions between the siblings and gave us insights into both their personalities and their often fragile relationship with their mother. But I found it hard to build a picture of So-Nyo herself even though she was the focus of the book and even narrated one chapter. It seemed to me there were a lot of contradictions about her character, and although this may have been deliberate it sometimes didn’t ring true for me. The book also flits back and forth a lot in time and it can be hard to follow who we are reading about and at what point in their lives we are at.
I think the section told in the second person by the father was the most interesting in some ways as it showed how he had taken his wife for granted and how one-sided his relationship with her was. But again I ended this section feeling somehow unsatisfied.
I must admit I skimmed through the end of this book as I found I had lost interest. The narrative style was too confusing and it meant I left the book feeling I didn’t really know anything about the various characters. This book should have moved and touched me, but it left me feeling a bit disappointed.
My rating: 5.5/10
More details about the book:
Title: Please Look After Mother
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin / translated by Chi-Young Kim
Published in 2008
Set in South Korea
Awards: Man Asian Literary Prize