“It’s been one week since mom went missing.”
This is how Please Look After Mom, by Kyung-Sook Shin begins, plunging the reader headlong into the plot.
It’s a chilling start, one that no one would want to experience.
Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim, Please Look After Mom, tells the harrowing aftermath that the family deals with when their mother, Park So-nyo, goes missing after she was unable to board a train with her husband at Seoul Station.
The story is told through different perspectives: first the elder daughter, Chi-hon; then the eldest child, Hyong Chol, and then her husband and finally the mother (who seems to be flitting between this world and the next).
Each perspective is steeped in regretful reflections and replete with poignant memories about Park So-nyo.
The daughter recalls her mother always working, and in her mind she is synonymous with the kitchen. Only when her younger sister, who herself now has three kids, asks her, “Do you think mom liked being in the kitchen?” does she even weigh in the enormity of her mother’s difficult and sacrificing life.
Hyong Chol, on the other hand, regrets not fulfilling his mother’s dreams and the promises he had made her, particularly of being a prosecutor.
Whereas the husband now regrets taking his wife for granted, not being able to help her even during her illness and how he had automatically assumed that she would be the one to take care of him.
The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents it fourth review!
Quite honestly, it was actually the cover of The Red Room that caught my eye itself, yet it was the detailed back cover or the blurb that finally made me decide to lend the book from the library.
Despite the mention of trauma, I couldn’t help but gawk and be awed at the deep red of the cover and wonder at how pretty it is! Don’t you think so?
My interest in Korean literature is a recent development. So I ideally wanted to pick up this book just to broaden my perspectives about books and stories from Korea. However, since trauma was mentioned, I debated whether I wanted or had the mental space to read something heavy, dense and thought provoking.
But, it was the beautiful blurb that sealed the deal!
The Red Room, translated by Bruce and Ju Chan Fulton, has three stories about “trauma in contemporary Korea.” The stories narrate how traumatic experiences have become a part and parcel for many Koreans especially because of the Korean War and the Gwangju/Kwangju Massacre. The Red Room is bookended by in depth forward and afterword that help the reader to know more about the specific events that the stories in the novel talk about.
A Quick Word
The first story, In the Realm of the Buddha, by Pak Wan-so is about the how a mother-daughter duo have yet to come to terms with the death of their father and brother, twenty years later. It is a heart felt story about what binds the living together, despite their differences in the way they share this unresolved grief.
The second story, Spirit on the Wind, by O Chong-hui is my favourite and employs two point of views to present its story. Un-su is the wife who often abruptly leaves her home at random for short intervals, without any consideration for her husband or son, Sung-il.
Recently, in my hunt for reading stories from across the world, I came across this excellent website, Korean Literature Now.
It has a great collection of reviews of works, translations, poetry and short stories written by Korean and other authors.
Take a look at the short stories!