Book Club Reflection: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

6 Feb

I feel like it’s been forever since I went to a book club meeting but I realize it really hasn’t been that long. The holidays always make things seem longer than they are. Our last meeting was to talk about Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.

We had some background information on the book and author from our discussion leader. This is Shin’s first novel. She started writing short stories and published her first novella at age 22. Her husband is a poet, literary critic, and professor. Shin is the fourth child and oldest daughter of six children. She, much like Chi-hon, moved to Seoul at age 16 to live with her eldest brother.

Shin obviously had a very strong understanding of human relationships and interactions. The characters all had distinct and different reactions to their mom’s disappearance and the way they dealt with one another was well written. The style she chose, writing in 2nd person, was very off-putting when we started reading. Some readers said they got used to it quickly, others over some time. Many of us got so used to it that we didn’t realize the father’s section was written in 2nd person after acclimating to it in Chi-hon’s section.

Some of us saw Mom as a saint while others viewed her as a martyr. She was a good mother, but at a cost to herself that seemed almost unhealthy. We wondered if her headaches were because of a brain tumor if it’s not the commonly speculated Alzheimer’s. We thought it was interesting that she was most like her youngest daughter, the stay-at-home mother. There was a beautiful moment when the daughter is describing for her mother how the food in the kitchen is prepared for the kids, very reminiscent of mom in the kitchen for much of her life.

Food kept appearing in the book at many critical moments. It was a family gathering point, especially for a family that didn’t have much. Food was important to the family when they were growing up poor, not always having the food they needed to eat. It had a bigger meaning in their lives than it has in mine or my fellow readers.

I had the unpopular opinion of not liking the section mom narrated. She kept appearing as a bird, which I found odd. The daughter’s children eventually buried the bird, but it didn’t seem to give mom closure. We continued to learn more about her life, things no one would ever learn about her, as she watched and commented on the world after she disappeared.

We questioned if the children ever accepted their mother’s death. It seemed that Hyung-chol had, and Chi-hon criticized him for going golfing, for doing something with his time other than looking for her. It seems like Chi-hon accepted her death at the end of the book, asking the Virgin to look after her mother the way she looks after her son in death in the Pieta statue.

The next selection is one I’ve read already so I’m going to be picking my own books for a while now. Honestly, it’s a bit of a relief! I get to work on bringing down Mt. TBR!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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