Sympathy in Humor, Glamour in Simplicity: A Mother Never Dies by Choi Inho

  • onNovember 9, 2014
  • Vol.8 Summer 2010
  • byChen Xiaofan
A Mother Never Dies
Tr. Han Zhenqian

In 2006, Professor Han Zhenqian, Chairman of the Korean Studies Research Center at Beijing University, sent his translation of A Mother Never Dies to the Writers Publishing House. Choi Inho, the author of the original work, is one of the most influential writers in Korean literary circles. He has established a solid readership in China as well, and is now counted among the most popular Korean writers in China. Early on, I developed a keen affection for the author’s works, and became curious about this novel based on his own mother. Turning each page, I was moved by the candor and deep affection of the author. Countless works have been written about mothers, in all ages and countries, but this work is remarkable in that unlike the many works in praise and exaltation of motherhood, it portrays an ordinary mother living everyday life. Upon reading the manuscript, I decided that the work should be published. With Yu Baosheng and myself as joint editors, and with publication support from LTI Korea, A Mother Never Dies has been published in Chinese.

An autobiographical family novel, A Mother Never Dies begins when the author’s mother is 68-years-old, and describes, in the form of journal entries or essays, the author’s change of heart and longing for his mother after she dies at the age of 80. With humor and sympathy, the author subtly portrays a mother in everyday life. Widowed in her middle age, she raised six children on her own with great difficulty. She is good-natured and timid, but shows an almost inexplicable abhorrence towards mice. Ignorant and plain, the mother is also stubborn and competitive; she is also frugal and thrifty, but from time to time, she plays tricks on her son to coax some extra money from him in addition to her allowance. In her later years, she begins to pay a lot of attention to her appearance, becomes fickle, and stirs up trouble for her children for no reason. Greatness and triviality, strength and weakness, fear and tranquility—such good and evil, and beauty and ugliness, coexist in conflict, making up the ordinary yet unique inner world of the mother.

The author depicts his mother without any exaggeration or embellishment. The book is all the sadder because it is true, describing the brutality and ruthlessness of life, but human warmth can be portrayed more convincingly through such truths. The strength and devoted love of mothers shed an everlasting light of warmth and brightness on all the sons and daughters of the world.

Though a book about a mother, A Mother Never Dies reveals primitive truths and complexity by setting up the son as the first person point of view narrator. The narrator is a son beloved by his mother, but deliberately avoids her when she comes to his school for fear that his friends will make fun of him for his short, plain, and ignorant mother. Later, tired of her nagging, he does not go visit his mother though she lives alone because he says that he is busy. Then, as a middle-aged man, he begins to realize how difficult it is to raise children, and how extraordinary his mother’s educational philosophy was, when she hadn’t even finished elementary school herself. Her philosophy consisted simply of faith in her children.

The death of his mother pushes the narrator into endless thought. He regrets how poorly he treated his mother, who was so invaluable, and is pained that he left her feeling lonely in her later years. The middle-aged son, who has tasted both the sweetness and bitterness of life, is full of longing for his mother, and sincerely repents: “My mother, who suffered all kinds of hardships and raised, with her hands bereft of fingerprints, her children so that they grew into decent human beings, was a prisoner sentenced to life and locked up in a solitary cell by her intelligent but heartless children”; and, “I am sorry for the days past, in which I was ashamed and embarrassed of my mother.” The mother is a mirror that reflects and corrects the son. The bitterness felt by the now-grown son gives a glimpse into longing, love, responsibility, and regret; such is the path of filial duty that we all must walk. This is a book about repentance by the son for his mother, and a moving story of a mother and a son. 



 * Chen Xiaofan is editor at the Writers Publishing House.