Friday, November 16, 2012

#BookReview: Please Look After Mom - Kyung-Sook Shin

Would it take your mother's disappearance for you to realize how little you knew of her?

"Do you remember asking me a while ago to tell you something that only I knew about Mom? I told you I didn't know Mom.  All I knew was that Mom was missing.  It's the same now.  I especially don't know where her strength came from."

It's not until your wife goes missing that you even see her as your counterpart.

"Before you lost sight of your wife on the Seoul Station subway platform, she was merely your children's mother to you."

"Before she went missing, you spent your days without thinking about her.  When you did think about her, it was to ask her to do something, or to blame her or ignore her.  Habit can be a frightening thing.  You spoke politely with others, but your words turned sullen toward your wife.  Sometimes you even cursed at her.  You acted as if it had been decreed that you couldn't speak politely to your wife. That's what you did."

When 69 year old Park So-nyo goes missing, her husband and her children come to understand how little they knew of her and how much they took her for granted for so long.  Born into poverty, she married a man that she didn't know, or initially love, yet raised five children to become productive members of society.  Yet, like many adult children, she became an afterthought as they became successful, seen as an annoyance by some.

Still, their successes were all built firmly on the foundation that she set for them.  The eldest son for whom she saved and sacrificed to send to school; a younger daughter that was sent off to live with that same son to receive an even better education; the daughter who tries to manage being both a pharmacist and a mother to three, while wondering how Mom managed to raise five children and make it seem so easy and natural.

"Since she went missing, I often think: Was I a good daughter? Could I do the kind of things for my kids she did for me?  I know one thing.  I can't do it like she did.  Even if I wanted to.  When I'm feeding my kids, I often feel annoyed, burdened, as if they're holding on to my ankles.  I love my kids, and I am moved - wondering, did I really give birth to them?  But I can't give them my entire life like Mom did.  Depending on the situation, I act as if I would give them my eyes if they need them, but I'm not Mom."

Over the course of this short read, each member of the family reflects on the role Mom played in his/her life, realizing that not once did they see as anything other than their mother.  And as mothers sometimes do, she downplayed any problems she had the few times that anyone asked.  Ultimately, it's the inability to express her pain (and her family's willingness to overlook it) that leads to the disappearance of Park.

"So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning?  She didn't have the opportunity to pursue her dreams and, all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn't do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely.

Published: April 2011

Theme: Acknowledgement by John Coltrane

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