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The mother load

Shin Kyung-sook's award-winning novel is a triumph of form and language

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  • Newspaper section: Life
  • Writer: Colin Chenet
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Please Look After Mom is, let's be honest, a pretty silly title. But it'd be a shame if the awkward, maudlin title has lost Shin Kyung-sook any readers. Translated beautifully into English by Kim Chi-young, Shin's exploration of loss and regret won her the Man Asian Literary Prize last year _ the first time the prize has been awarded to a female novelist. 

But that's not why you should read it. Please Look After Mom is that rare work of fiction where it is more form and language, rather than plot and characterisation, which compels the reader to participate in the narrative's trauma _ in this case, the loss of your mother.

Yes: your mother. She and your father travelled from the country to visit you and your siblings in the city; in the subway station, she became separated from your father, and disappeared. You've posted flyers ("You aren't sure how helpful your words will be in finding Mom," you think), searched your old neighbourhoods she could never navigate herself, and followed-up on sightings of a dazed-looking woman eating sushi from a dumpster, or trying to enter a stranger's home-all without any luck. Your family is reeling, numb yet increasingly frantic in the wake of this loss. "You all blamed each other for Mom's going missing," Shin writes, but it has become clear to you, the reader, that you all blame yourself for the loss, for not looking after her.

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