In Search of a Lost Mother: Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.3 Spring 2009
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Please Look After Mom

The world is rife with all kinds of fabulous praises for mothers. Trite praises were created to emphasize the absoluteness of motherhood such as, “If you placed the world on one side of a scale, and my mother on the other, the side of the world will be much lighter.” Nevertheless, all of this praise combined would not be sufficient to describe each of our mothers perfectly. Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook is the story of “my mother,” who cannot be replaced by any other mother. Korean readers are wildly excited about this story of an ordinary mother. What sustains this novel is the power of imagination that becomes possible only when our mothers who have been with us all our lives are eliminated from our lives. Please Look After Mom is the story of a family in search of their mother who has disappeared.

When the mother, who has devoted her entire life to housekeeping and farming, disappears, the family realizes that they had known so little about her. They discover that she was illiterate, and that she had suffered from a stroke, only after she is gone. Please Look After Mom is a story about the life of a mother who is found only after she becomes lost. In addition, the story is told not from the first person point of view, but from the second point of view. The “you” not only represents the protagonist of the novel, but the children of the world who think, “My mother doesn’t really know me.”

The journey in search of a mother is a journey of the heart that dispels the arrogant thought that your mother can never understand you. Further, it is a journey of the consciousness that leads you face to face with the cold truth that you didn’t know anything about your mother. The journey in search of a mother is not simply a journey to find the physical body of the mother who has disappeared, but to find the lost time she sacrificed for everyone. The journey is also one in search of oneself, who thought that he or she knew everything, but didn’t, in reality. Acknowledging the fact that she has disappeared is also acknowledging the selfish delusion that one’s mother will always be there where one wants her.

What is more painful than the fact that no one knew of the mother’s stroke is that no one realized how great and beautiful was the life of the mother no one remembered. The family didn’t know that she, who sacrificed everything for the family like the giving tree, had all her life needed a mother as well. The family hadn’t known that their mother had needed another mother; that she, too, had needed true love, not the cold back that her husband turned on her. The family, desperately searching for any trace of her, finally comes to admit, “We don’t know anything about her, except that we lost her.”

Yet this isn’t simply the story of a mother. This is also a story revealing the sense of guilt felt by countless children and husbands who made their mothers ceaselessly sacrifice themselves, for their own benefit. However, what readers feel upon closing the book will not be fear or guilt, but infinite wonder for the mother who is beside them, here and now. Isn’t it time now that we traded places for once? What would it be like if we became our mother’s mother from time to time, if only for the little time that is left? 

Author's Profile

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 CalfThe Sound of BellsUnknown Women, and Moonlight Tales, and seven novels, including An Isolated RoomLee JinPlease 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.