My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's not often that I find modern, Korean stories in English, so I quickly add them to my to-read pile. This is one of those books. When I told my own mother about it, as it turned out, she had already read it, in Korean. "That's the one where...[the end]." Thanks, Mom. Now, let's get on to Chi-hon looking for her mother.
What do you do when a family member goes missing? What happens when it's not a child, but your mother, a grown woman? How do you get the word out, what is the appropriate amount for a reward, where do you start looking? And how long do you keep looking?
These are the immediate questions Chi-hon and her family face when Mom gets lost in the Seoul subway station. The family argues about the answers and continues to fuss, disagreeing with the best and most respectful way to look for their mother. As they search, they realize how little they really knew about their mother, and how little they ever thought about her in anyway other than as "mother."
As Chi-hon, her siblings, and her father share the pieces of their mother and wife that they knew, it made me think of my own mother and myself as a mother. Have I ever thought about what my mother wanted to do with her life, assuming that being my mother was not her whole life dream? Do my children ever think of me as a person, outside of being the woman who cooks, signs permission slips, and drives them places?
Kyung-sook Shin blended Korean customs and ways of thought into the story as she revealed who Mom was through her family's memories and their search for her. By the end, we are left with an idea of where she has gone and are hopeful that the family will figure it out, too.
The story is told, for the most part, in second-person ("you look around"), which is a very rarely used and difficult point-of-view. It took a few chapters to get used to having the narrator speak directly to me, but it also was successful in eventually drawing me further in, as if I needed to be part of the search party. When Shin switches POV it was a clear signal that I really needed to pay attention now. She used the technique well, but it sometimes gets confusing and does take a minute to get used to.
This is the first of her novels that I have read, but apparently she was twelve previous ones. I intend to look for them - and hope that they are available as English translations.
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