Rated Reads

Please Look After Mom

by Kyung-sook Shin

Rated: Mild

When an older woman disappears in a crowded Seoul train station, her husband and grown children all wonder what could have happened to her. They notify the police, make fliers and signs, and do all they can to track her down. A few people in varied places say they have seen her, but the time elapsed since the sightings makes it unlikely they’ll find her in those spots, even though, of course, they try.

As the weeks and months pass, her husband, a son, and a daughter each in turn reflect on their time with her and wonder at the things they are finding out about her now that she’s gone. All are surprised by what they didn’t know about her day-to-day life, her interests and her needs. All feel the pangs of guilt as they fear they will never see her again, as they realize they took her for granted.

Please Look After Mom seems at first like a mystery or a thriller with a surprise ending or a juicy exploration of a quiet Korean woman’s secret life. But it really is a look at family relationships, at the ways in which we settle into patterns and don’t know each other as completely as we could. Despite its setting in Korea, its themes are familiar and universal. The only two drawbacks were that about half the novel is written in second person, and I found it difficult not to be distracted by that perspective. It annoyed me and took away from what might have been a more powerful story. The author also seems to moralize a bit too obviously sometimes about how we shouldn’t take our families for granted. It’s interesting to know this book has been an international best seller. I’d be curious how it reads in other languages, particularly its original Korean.

Aside from a few weak points, however, the book is worth reading.

Rated: Mild, for a few uses of mild and moderate language.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for more than 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • Please Look After Mom
  • by Kyung-sook Shin
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: