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Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin

May 22, 2011

South Korean novelist Kyung-sook Shin‘s Please Look After Mom — her first novel to be translated and published in English — has already become an international bestseller, and the response on websites like Goodreads suggests that readers here are jumping on the love train too. But there have been naysayers as well, most notably Maureen Corrigan whose NPR review drew incendiary responses. While my own review in this weekend’s Washington Post wasn’t quite so strongly worded — and while I recognize that many readers might well connect with the book — I found Please Look After Mom a disappointment myself: maudlin, repetitive, and overlong. Here’s a sample paragraph from my article:

The book strives to plumb some deep and essential truth about motherhood, but the realizations that shatter these characters’ apathy may strike readers as somewhat less profound. From Chi-hon’s section: “You don’t understand why it took you so long to realize something so obvious. To you, Mom was always Mom. It never occurred to you that she had once taken her first step, or had once been three or twelve or twenty years old.” From the father’s section: “After your children’s mother went missing, you realized that it was your wife who was missing. Your wife, whom you’d forgotten about for fifty years, was present in your heart. Only after she disappeared did she come to you tangibly.” So a woman is more than the chores of motherhood? So you realize what you had only when it’s gone? I have to agree with Chi-hon’s assessment: Why has it taken so long to realize something so obvious? And yet similar revelations continue to mount. As Park So-nyo herself reflects: “Oh, I don’t know where to stop these memories, the memories that are sprouting all over the place like spring greens,” at which point I thought some pruning might have been nice.

Read the full review here for a more complete perspective. — Art Taylor

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