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Editorial Reviews

In Please Look After Mom, Kyung-Sook Shin has delivered a stark, beautiful book about the loss of a mother and the complexity of family relationships, all set against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing South Korea. Her simple but moving prose is presented elegantly, with just a touch of magical realism.

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

Publisher's Summary

A million-plus-copy best seller in South Korea and poised to become an international sensation, Please Look After Mom is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, and of the desires, heartaches, and secrets they discover she harbored within.< /p>

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.

©2011 Kyung-Sook Shin (P)2011 Random House

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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

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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

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  • darswords
  • Christmas Valley, Oregon, United States
  • 07-25-11

A Must Read for Everyone!

Wow, what can I say?

I listened to the Audible version of this book while reading it. The narrators: Mark Bramhall, Samantha Quan, Janet Song, Bruce Turk lent the book their voices and hearts.

I don't know who suggested for me to read this. Thank you, whoever you are. Obviously, it was very important to me to read it as I did the full search on the library-site and then, when I didn't find the library's audio version, I downloaded the audible to listen while reading.

When I first began reading I was a little put off and confused by the use of "you" as if the character was talking to him or herself. I don't know if that was a tool the author employed or if it resulted from translation, or a combination of the two. Once I got used to the tactic I fell into the thoughts of each of the characters readily.

I think this is an important book for all people to read. It reminds us to think of the "back-story" of the people around you, that you love and possibly take for granted. As an author, I think of the birth and childhood and daily thoughts of my own characters to breathe life into them. But I think I should pursue the real people in my world. Even if we are in the same situation we see each other and the situation through our own filters. What don't we know of others that we never seem to find the time to find out?

This is a sacred book. I will have to buy it and read it again.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathy
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 02-10-16

If you've ever had a Mom . . . .

I tossed in bed in the wee hours of this morning, thinking about this story and wondering what I could say in my review to convey what it meant to me. That is not always easy and too many superlatives can be off-putting. I had been tossing around the idea of listening to this audio book for a long time and only recently acquired it, figuring it was about time.

In summary, the elderly "Mom" of the family gets left behind on a subway platform in Seoul, Korea. She was supposed to be following behind her husband and he never bothered to look behind him until the train was pulling away. It appears Mom may be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, although her family is in denial and seemingly unaware of this. In addition, Mom has other untreated medical problems which might make her return and even her survival more complicated.

The book is written from four points of view after mom goes missing--a daughter, a son, her husband, and mom, herself. It is oddly written in the second person in a way I never encountered before. I didn't mind it at all, once I realized what was occurring. This is a translation and I do not expect it to sound like standard English. For me, it worked just fine.

This book gradually took hold of my heart. Mom's son, daughter, and husband had a lot of time to ruminate, as they scrambled to try to find her. Each one had their own recriminations, regrets, insights and memories of Mom. Each felt like they didn't really know or truly appreciate Mom, who had been the backbone of the family, always there to cater to their needs, seemingly selfless. But Mom was not quite as selfless as everyone believed and had kept some mysteries and secrets of her own. Her longstanding, secret friendship with a neighbor was one of the most touching parts of the story for me.

Mom is one of the four voices in this story. I hesitate to describe this further for fear of spoiling the story for you. Listen carefully. Then come to your own conclusions.

This is a beautiful, incredibly touching story (with a bit of magical realism) that will remain with me for a very long time. It deserves and calls for a great deal of attention, which I regret I did not fully give it. For that reason and because it is such a relevant, unusual story, I will listen to it a second time.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Beth
  • Coon Rapids, MN United States
  • 05-05-11

A book that keeps you thinking

At first, the writing was a little annoying in that the author/reader referred to herself in the third person, but I got over that. I like the way several family members got their chance to tell the story from their perspective. While they were all reminiscing and peeling layers off the family and their memories of mom, the story kept moving forward. I feel like I got some insight into this family and I keep thinking of them from time to time. That, to me, is a good book - one I remember long after I have read it.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Moving Story

This was not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I read it as it was my book club's choice for the month. I found the story to be deeply moving and a wonderful choice for a book club discussion. The author uses several narrators, mostly members of the missing woman's family, to tell the woman's story and the way her life affected theirs. Beautifully touching.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 12-10-11

A Life, Deconstructed.

An elderly married couple travel by train from the rural village they live in to the vast city of Seoul. Their birthdays fall close together, so the family has taken to throwing a joint birthday celebration for them over the years. Each year the couple comes to the vast capital, which is the second largest metropolitan area with in the world, for this celebration.

Arriving at Seoul station, the couple transfers to the needed subway line; but as the doors close, and the train begins to move, the husband realizes that his wife is not with him; she has been left behind.

And here we begin our story, told from 5 different points of view in 5 separate sections of the book. We follow the family as they search for their mother; a mother who has Alzheimer's; a mother that never learned to read. We stay with them as they walk through this city of 25 million people, looking for only one; and as the search continues, the full story of this woman’s life unfolds. Each narrator knows something the others don’t. Each has a unique set of stories and regrets; and as the reader, the full weight of each are put slowly and painfully on our shoulders.

In the penultimate section of the book, we finally get to hear from the mother herself. We find what really transpired that day, and how she views her own life. More secrets are given to our care.

This is a story I’ll never forget, and I have to admit to calling my own mother as soon as it was over, to repeat again how much I love her. The story is nothing if not a cautionary tale of the damage done by things left unsaid.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Insightful and Relatable

I remember wanting to read this book when the English translation was first released in print, but then forgot about it. Then it came up in a pop-up ad on another site, and my interest was piqued once again.

As many of my previous reviews have indicated, I do like family and relationship dissonance, dysfunction and ambivalence as bases for a story, and many of my favorite reads have explored this arena of human interaction from a variety of angles, and using a variety of plot situations and narrative techniques. But I thought this was a little heavy on the emotional introspection, with not enough emphasis on the story. Or put another way, for my taste, the evolution of present-day relationships was explored too much from the past, in terms of backstories, and I wanted to hear more about how the siblings actually went about finding Mom. I realized all along that actually finding Mom was not the main point of the story, and that the book was more about exploring a family from the inside, from various points of view, and in various voices.

Bottom line is, I wish there was more time/space devoted to the present and less on the past, and I thought the backstories were too slow - for me, anyway. Sometimes, depending on how a book is constructed, it's possible to fast-forward to what interests me if I get really frustrated with how the story is moving, but this book kept alternating between past and present with very fluid motion and one could easily miss some unexpectedly wonderful insights by skipping parts.

The various narrative voices did not bother or confuse me, as I have read a few successful (IMO) novels using the second person. Seems to be a focus that's being explored by some writers. The narrators were all excellent and interpreted each character perfectly (another IMO); I have always loved listening to Mark Bramhall, and perhaps not so coincidentally, he is one of the narrators in "The Night Strangers" by Chris Bohjalian, another novel that's partially in the second person.

I'm glad I found this on audible.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Please Love Mom

Haunting and gripping story of the missing person; a wife, a grandmother, a mother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and most of all - a mother, whom means everything to the kids. Moving story on remorse, lifetime taken for granted, realization of precious moments (only once there are lost).

Please look after mom
Please don't forget mom
Please love mom

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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You must listen closely to a book that whispers

If you could sum up Please Look After Mom in three words, what would they be?

Moving, & Thought-Provoking,

What did you like best about this story?

We dont often think of the aftermath a family experiences when one of its members goes missing, a member who isnt a child in anycase.
I'll also admit to being a sucker for stories written in second person narrative form.

What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

I appreciated greatly the fact that each chapter is read by its 'thinker'/experiencer (yes I made that word up).

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Tears. I often thought of my own mother who is now deceased. I wouldve loved to pick up the phone, call, and ask her 100 questions and listen closely to the answers to things I no longer remember; things I never knew.

Any additional comments?

This book is very respectful… it whispers. It whispers and slowly you surrender. If you are used to or prefer a barge in jump up and grab you bestseller, this one might be difficult for you. It’s a heartbreaking story, if you don’t appreciate your mom now, after reading this you might appreciate her a bit more. Especially if she was the kind to dote upon you..

4 of 5 people found this review helpful