Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom” wins over the New York Times

"Please Look After Mom" Book Cover

"Please Look After Mom" Book Cover

Janet Maslin’s  interesting review of Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom” in the New York Times.

The reviewer is a bit superior towards South Korea, jibing that “Please Look After Mom”,  “Sold more than a million copies in South Korea, where there may not be a dry hankie left in the land,” but with some slight demurrals seems to like the book.

The review begins with an amusingly dry synopsis:

The book is about the selfish family of Park So-nyo, a woman who got lost in the crowd at a train station in Seoul and has not reappeared. Shocked into decency, her husband, two sons and two daughters find themselves replaying all the button-pushing, tear-jerking moments that illustrated this woman’s love and devotion. It would be a grievous understatement to call her a mere martyr.

The reviewer also argues that the tone author Shin takes in some passages – essentially using her authorial position to browbeat some characters in order to pump up the sanctity of  “mom”   – may come across as grating, or too intrusive. This is not the only way in which Shin stacks the deck in favor of the mother; she makes the mother a cancer-sufferer, a volunteer at an orphanage, and almost inhumanly sacrificing.  Shin also ends with a scene (added for English readers, I believe) set in Rome, which explicitly compares them other to a saint.

While Maslin notes all of these things because they bother her as a critic, she still concludes:

By the end of the book Ms. Shin has been canny enough to make even Mom feel pangs of tearful love for her own Mom. And she has turned the book’s title, which initially sounded like an order, into something much more powerful: a prayer.

LOL – you have to love that judgmental “canny” slipped in there. Still, another review that should drive more readers to the book.

5 thoughts on “Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom” wins over the New York Times

  1. The real test is now coming — sales.

    How well does it perform regarding revenues.

    The better it does, the better for translation.

    Incidentally, you have not offered thoughts yourself on the translation or the translator.

    Who is the translator and do you know him/her?

    How good is the translation?

    Most reviewers cannot compare the two to offer views, but you can.

  2. 1) It will stomp every previous translation’s gross. It may stomp the cumulative gross of all previous translations.
    How do I know this? Shin was paid an upfront 5 times more than the previous best. Publishers tend to know this stuff. Also. Oprah. Really. Oprah. ^^

    2) The translator is Kim Chi-young who was great when she began and has become a better and better translator with each work. I’ll be posting my interview with her soon… she’s amazing.

    3) It may be unfair to compare the original to the English version. The English version has been re-written to be more culturally apt here.

    I should also say, that I can’t read Korean fiction in Korean with any level of understanding.. with time I can puzzle out what it “says,” but the literary nature and cultural references are completely lost on me.

    Alas.. 😉

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