Ritika Jain, New Delhi
“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. Mom was Mom. She was born as Mom.”
– Please Look After Mom
I always find it magical that words in a book can move you to tears. To read about people who don’t exist, the places that aren’t there, the events that never really happened, and yet they make you feel the reality, the intensity of it, with just using words. It happened when I was exploring Korean literature, courtesy of my interest in Korean dramas and movies, that I stumbled upon this book.
Please Look After Mom (Korean: 엄마를 부탁해) is a novel published in 2008 by South Korean author KYUNG-SOOK SHIN. She made her literary debut in 1985 with the novella Winter’s Fable after graduating from the Seoul Institute of the Arts as a creative writing major.
She has won several notable awards and accolades throughout her career. Specifically for the English translation (2011) of this particular book, done by Kim Chi-young, she won the 2011 ‘The Man Asian Literary Prize,’ the very first bagged by a woman. The book sold more than a million copies within the first 10 months of its release and has been adapted as a stage play and musical as well.
At first, the title looks too direct, plain and simple. And what catches your attention is the word ‘mom.’ Aren’t we always attracted towards the word mom or mother, wherever we see, or hear it? This one word itself evokes several emotions within us. This book also does the same. It will emanate within you a lot of emotions. But what it does more, is that it beautifully raises some questions.
There is nothing much ‘story’ to the story. It is simply about the disappearance of a mother, and what her children, husband, and other people related to her feel, the regrets they have about their behaviour towards her. Divided into 4 different sections, we get to discover and uncover the secrets that ‘Mom’ held onto for her whole life, and the kind of person she really was.
Thoughts That Make It a Must Read
But the story feels like it’s your own. The characters and the situations are strangely relatable. As you read you can’t help but be surprised to think that it is your mom the writer is talking about. Maybe that’s what she intends to do. To make us realise, how mothers’ are, how a mother’s heart is and if you feel something for that mom, you need to feel about yours.
It was the first book that I read, which employs a unique narration structure. The same story is being told from different peoples’ points of view, but that too in the second person format, for the many parts of the novel. It took me some time to feel comfortable with this style of writing, and only as we progress, we do realise the importance of using it. At once we feel the tone to be harsh, as if someone is accusing me, of doing these things, I as a reader firmly negate that and want to believe that no, this is not how I am. That I am much better. And then gradually, the feeling sinks in. And the story becomes that of every mother and every child. Reading and visualising the events in the second person, feel harsh, and without it, the story wouldn’t have come across as it did. In the end, it all made sense. When the story towards the end is narrated in the first person, everything comes together, and you can’t hold onto your tears.
Wrapped between, the lines, are also many pressing issues like patriarchy, fidelity, the importance of education, parent-children relationship, the clash between the rustic and the city life and many more.
Regret is at the core of the story. It is both ironic and heartbreaking to read that all these people never cared about her, never talked to her, or asked her how she felt when she was with them for their whole lives. Only now, when she is not with them they are realising her sacrifices, her hard life, her struggle and her secrets. It feels as if they never knew her, for real, and now all they can hope for is for her to be safe and sound wherever she is, and thus the prayer – Please look after Mom.
So, if you are on the look for a book that can move you to tears, help you introspect, be an eye opener, and last but not the least, change you as a person and a child to your ‘Mom’, then this should be your next read. This book is also widely loved by many K-Personalities like RM of BTS.
Have you read this book or do you want to read this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!