Please Look After Mom
- onNovember 10, 2014
- Vol.4 Summer 2009
- byShin Kyung-sook
- Please Look After Mom
Tr. Chi-Young Kim 2012272pp.
Shin Kyung-sook’s latest book Please Look After Mom is a novel about a mother gone missing and her family, told from the shifting points of view of the family members. The following excerpt is from the opening of the book’s first chapter.
It has been a week since Mom was lost.
Gathered at Older Brother’s home, your family decided, after much deliberation, to print a flyer and hand out copies around where Mom was lost. You would start with drafting a copy for the flyer. The old-fashioned way. A member of the family was lost, not just any member but the mother, but there were very few things that the rest of the family could do. File a missing person report; search the nearby area; ask anyone on the street if they had seen this person; Younger Brother, who runs an on-line clothing store, posts details on the internet about how and where Mom was lost, along with her photo, pleading for anyone to get in touch if they saw someone resembling her. You wanted to go search any place that Mom might have gone, but you knew that there was no place in this city that Mom could go on her own. You’re a writer, so you should draft the copy, Older Brother said, appointing you to the job. A writer. You turned red below your ears, as if you had been caught doing something you should not. Will one of the sentences that you compose turn out to be helpful in finding Mom?
When you wrote July 24, 1938, to state Mom’s date of birth, Father said that Mom was born in 1936. He said that only her citizen’s registration had it down as ’38, and that actually she was born in ’36. This is news to you. Father said that back then, this was common practice. Because many babies died before they were a hundred days old, families waited for two or three years before reporting their births for the family register. You were about to change the number 38 to 36 when Older Brother said that since this was an official document, you should say Mom was born in ’38. This was a flyer that we were putting together on our own, it was not like we were working at the Community Center or the District Office – did I have to write down what was on the records rather than fact? You questioned this, but without saying anything, you changed back the number 36 to 38. Thinking, What about July 24, then? Would this be the correct date of Mom’s birthday?
Since a few years back, your mom had been insisting, Don’t make separate plans for my birthday. Father’s birthday was a month before Mom’s. There was a time when, on birthdays and other special occasions, you and the rest of the family in the city traveled back home to the town of J. The entire immediate family made 22. Mom liked the rowdiness of having the whole family over. Once a get-together was planned, she made new kimchi a few days ahead of the date, got meat from the butcher at the market and prepared extra toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste. She squeezed sesame oil, and roasted and pounded in a mortar separate batches of sesame seeds and perilla seeds, a bottle each for each sibling to take when they left. When she was anticipating the family’s arrival, your Mom took on a distinctly more energetic mood as she chatted with neighbors or with people she ran into at the market, her gestures and words suggesting a sense of pride. Her cellar would be lined with rows of glass bottles of various sizes, containing plum or wild berry juice that Mom had made according to season. Her earthenware sauce jars were filled to the top with salted fish – yellow croaker, anchovy gut, clams. When word went around that onions were good for health, she made onion juice; when winter approached, she boiled pumpkin slices with licorice to send to her family in the city. Your mom’s house was like a factory where she was constantly manufacturing something for her family in the city, every hour, every season. Where sauces got made and bean paste fermented and sticky rice pounded.
* Above translation by Jung Ha-yun is not an excerpt from the Vintage Contemporaries edition (2012).
Shin Kyung-sook is a writer. Born in Jeongeub, North Jeolla Province in 1963. She made her literary debut in 1985 when her novella "A Winter Fable" won the Munye Joongang Literary Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of seven short story collections, including The Blind Calf, The Sound of Bells, Unknown Women, and Moonlight Tales, and seven novels, including An Isolated Room, Lee Jin, Please Look After Mom, and I'll Be Right There. She has received a number of prestigious literary awards at home and abroad, including the Yi Sang Literary Award, the Dongin Prize, the Hyundae Munhak Award, Prix de l'Inapercu, and the Man Asian Literary Prize.