Ah, South Korea. With K-Pop and K-Dramas, it was already sneaking into my life, and then I made the mistake of investing in some Korean fiction. I am now more firmly involved with this country than I would like to admit, but I don’t know, it’s kinda nice being made a mess of by a place I’ve never been to.
When I was trying to decide which Korean novel to start with, I scrolled through articles on the internet for quite a while, but one of the books that kept on coming up was Shin Kyung-Sook’s Please Look After Mother, so I figured I’d give it a go. Boy, am I glad I did!
The novel follows the family of Park So-nyo after her disappearance from Seoul Station as they try to find her, but in the process they end up uncovering more than they’d ever realised about both their own lives and that of their mother. Guilt leaks through the words written about each family member the novel focuses on as they realise that perhaps So-nyo wasn’t the woman they’d all taken her to be.
Admittedly, this wasn’t the easiest novel to get into. It’s only 261 pages, but reading it took me much longer than it should’ve done. Going into this book, I was practically blind, and I was a little surprised reading the first page to discover that it was in second person.
Second person reading is a strange sensation. So many books are published as “I” or “they”, but this was the first one I’d come across reading “you”. It was actually a very interesting, maybe even exciting, reading experience to discover the first character, Chi-hon, from this perspective. As a reader, it gave me a better sense of her personality, rather than it being her or an invisible watcher describing her life and actions, and I found myself quite liking her wild nature. She is a literary woman, who likes to travel, and both of those characteristics are something I can relate to.
In the first chapter, titled ‘Nobody Knows‘, we follow Chi-hon as she remembers her mother, digging just beyond the layers of her mother that she remembers to whatever must’ve been hidden behind. In this chapter I really began to get a sense of the woman that Park So-nyo was, which is just strengthened and broadened as each chapter goes to a different family member, swapping between the second person narrative to third person, first person and back again.
The ending of the book was the strongest part. Having rotated through the family, learning about Park So-nyo while becoming a little bit more aware of Korean history and cultural differences, the meaning behind the book really begins to sink in – family is family, and family should love, protect and respect one another. So, while the writing was difficult to get into at first, the plot really was worth it. I only shed a few tears towards the back end of the book *sniff*.
I think this was definitely a good decision for my first Korean novel, as it has really set me up to want to read more! I think I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, for the quality of the story, and I am honestly finding myself already yearning to re-read it. So if you’re looking for a foreign novel to invest in, or just looking for something a little different to read from your typical contemporary, I would 100% recommend Please Look After Mother. Hopefully you’ll love it as much as I did.
If you’ve read this book, leave a comment telling me what you thought!