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When their elderly mother accidently disappears into the crowded streets of Seoul, the family bands together to try to track her down. Her country upbringing, illiteracy, and mild dementia don't make the task easy and, for most of the novel, we are left crossing our fingers, hoping that the fliers, newspaper ads, and occasional tips will return her safe and sound.
Shin takes a unique stance on structure and grammar, as different members of the family tell their own versions of the story in second-person narrative. At first, the second-person can seem foreign and awkward, but eventually this lifts to reveal a feeling of intimacy.
The rotating voices give a 360 degree holistic view of the event, revealing new details while allowing the family to be at once its parts and the sum of its parts. Perspectives shift from sibling to sibling to father to, eventually, mom herself.
Narrators Mark Bramhall, Samantha Quan, Janet Song, and Bruce Turk do a beautiful, graceful job inhabiting these characters, bringing to the performance all their feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and regret. The narration holds cohesively as the work of an ensemble. They all come together miraculously well, making the story seem more like a play than a series of intertwined vignettes. The multiple voices also complement the text, written and translated (by Chi-Young Kim) with sparse language and frequent pauses to accentuate the spaces in between the thoughts. Bramhall's performance as the patriarch of the family is particularly moving. His narration is low, remorseful, exhausted, and dejected, as his character is forced to acknowledge that he has mistreated his wife and taken her for granted.
The story touches upon many major themes: loss of tradition, rural flight, the rise of urban culture, the de-emphasis of the importance of family, female endurance, and, most centrally, the role of mothers in society. At its most rational, Please Look After Mom is a critique on a shifting South Korea. At its most emotional, it's an ode to all the unsung good mothers of the world. Gina Pensiero
On a family visit to the city, Mom is right behind her husband when the train pulls out of Seoul Station without her, and she is lost, possibly forever. As her children argue over how to find her and her husband returns to their countryside home to wait for her, they each recall their lives with her, their memories often more surprising than comforting. Have they lived up to her expectations? Was she happy? Through the piercing voices of daughter, son, and husband, and through Mom’s own words in the novel’s shattering conclusion, we learn what happened that day, and explore an even deeper mystery—of motherhood itself.
At once steeped in the beauty and complexities of the East and rich with a universal tenderness, Please Look After Mom has a revelatory emotional power. You will never think of your mother the same way again after you’ve heard this book.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By RatorA on 05-15-11
Daughter wrote, Mom approved.
I didn't read it in Korean, my mother tongue, because I thought it was one of just tear-gas drama. I got this audiobook because I wanted to see if the translation was all right as the media say. The second-person narrative at first was hard to take but having listened it through I realized that was indeed the ingenious part of the novel. Even though this is not an ordinary page-turner style of novel with a classical plot which makes you climb up to the climax or dramatic ending, and it is about Korean woman whose life was simply an ordeal dictated by contemporary Korean history which may make it hard to understand for ordinary listeners, it is a timeless tribute to every mother and her dedication to her children.
Author said she decided to write one in her teens for her Mom sleeping exhausted in the night train heading for a big city for the hope of the author's career, and my mom declared it a “must-see” for her daughter after seeing the musical of this novel recently. Kudos for author, translator, editors, and the narrators.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Diana - Audible on 04-17-12
A moving family portrait
What would you do if your mother suddenly disappeared? And how would it make you feel: Guilty? Helpless? Exhausted? Kyung-Sook Shin poses this question in her power-packed and emotionally-gripping novel exploring the desires and heartaches of motherhood – and one family’s relationship with their mom.
The excellent narrator cast brings to life the voices of each family member and expertly navigates Shin’s unique second-person point of view. While this perspective takes getting used to, it’s worth the effort. This is a beautiful and life-changing novel that deserves all the praise and awards it’s won so far.
8 of 8 people found this review helpful