Monday, November 28, 2011 1 comments

Book Review: Please Look After Mom

Title: Please Look After Mom (엄마를 부탁해)
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin (신경숙)
Translated by: Chi-Young Kim (김지영)
Softcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Knopf (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-10: 0307593916
ISBN-13: 978-0307593917

Seemingly effortlessly translated into English, Please Look After Mom unabashedly attacks the heart and leaves the speechless reader in a state that can only be remedied by picking up the phone and calling your mom. Internationally recognized author Shin Kyung-Sook's unforgettably poignant 2008 novel is the recipient of several literary awards. However, is it all just culturally specific schmaltz lost on American readers or is there enough literary substance to warrant its international acclaim?

The story is about an elderly woman who accidentally becomes lost amidst a busy Seoul subway stop and her selfish family's frantic, consequential search. The book is contextually divided into four narratives: the critical eldest daughter, the favorited eldest son, the nomadic absentee husband, and finally the saint-like mother herself. Each chapter delves more into the tender, borderline naive characterization of the mother and the subsequent guilt felt by those who ultimately failed to live up to their proper familial roles. The characters are humanly flawed but forgivingly empathetic. You find yourself criticizing almost each family member for their insensitivity but then apologetically root for their redemption.

Culturally speaking, the setting is a striking contrast between socially progressive Seoul-centered modernization and war-torn traditional country-side values that are more and more lost with each passing generation. The mother's poverty-stricken childhood is but a dim memory to her doted children who knew little of her sacrifice and sorrow. Other than a few culturally contextualized moments, the narration needs very little pretext for the average non-Korean reader to appreciate the depth of this story. After all, everyone has a mother.

That's the general consensus with this touching story. At some part in most people's lives, like the characters in the story, we all have an epiphany and realize that our own mothers were not born mothers but instead chose to be mothers. Even though my own mother's personal sacrifices were naturally different than the ones described in the book, her loving presence is echoed in this story, as many other readers, too, have expressed.

It's indeed a sentimental Korean tear-jerker but thankfully it's also well-written enough to be almost effortlessly appreciated by an international audience. Having read the English version, I'm anxious to read the Korean version in hopes to further pick up on certain nuances that were likely to have been inescapably lost in translation, such as the subtle differences between "Mom (엄마)" and "Mother (어머니)" and the title's ambiguous message (엄마를 부탁해) which could be interpreted as either a dutiful order or a spiritual request.

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This novel doesn't exactly pertain to Korean studies, but it is a work that deserves to be talked about. It's got me wondering what else I'm missing in Korean literature, that's for sure.
Monday, November 21, 2011 0 comments

Book Review facelift

I've been prompted by the failure of Books.LivingSocial to merge my book collection over to LibraryThing. I like it so far. What's more is that I've gone back over my previous reviews and spruced them up a bit. Nothing major, just a few typo fixes and some rephrasing.

I'm happy that I left such detailed notes about how I felt about these books. Rereading what I wrote reminded me that I actually paid attention and cared about the subject matter. I strongly recommend others to do the same. I had almost forgotten that I had read certain titles until I looked back at both my notes on the inside cover and scattered all over almost each margin - let alone the review online. It's inspired me to pick up some new books that have been collecting dust on my shelf.

So, I give you the new and improved book review list.
Monday, November 7, 2011 0 comments

Wait One

Funny how a single belated post updates and at the same time disappoints.

I'm currently serving in the United States Navy so consistency and quality of postings are likely to be even more scant than before. Believe me when I say that not a day goes by when I wish I could devote all of my day to simply studying the Korean language and the history of her people. Unfortunately, bills have to be paid.

Whether this blog falls into further obscurity is irrelevant, really. I use it to track my personal passions and clearly they have been on hold for some time. I'd like to think that one day I'll get back into a routine that allows me to read more about Korea.

Oh and it seems I backed the wrong horse in regards to linking book reviews. has ceased operations and with it, all of my online library of reviews. Thankfully, I still have them here. I suppose step one will be to re-create my online library based on my physical library.

Any suggestions?