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Shin's English debut touching US readers

2011/04/08 | Permalink | Source

Author Shin Kyung-sook signs an autograph for a fan at a reception to celebrate the book's English debut in the United States in New York's Korean consulate, Wednesday. / Yonhap

By Chung Ah-young

Prominent Korean novelist Shin Kyung-sook's bestseller "Please Look After Mom" is capturing the hearts of U.S. readers in her English debut published by Knopf in the United States on April 5 with its timeless and universal values of a family and the devotion of a mother.

First published in her native language by Changbi Publisher in November 2008, it sold more than 1.7 million copies in Korea. The book has created a "mother syndrome" in the local publishing industry, which has quickly produced other literary works with a similar theme to capitalize on the popularity and the stage adaptations.

In a rare case for foreign authors, the U.S. publisher has already printed 100,000 copies of the first edition and an additional 3,000 copies of the second edition and will publish a third edition. As soon as it was released on the U.S. book shelves, it ranked 92nd in the overall and 35th in the literary section on Amazon.com as of April 6. It was a successful beginning for a foreign author given the tough competition in the U.S. foreign literature market.

"I feel as if I am back to being a new writer who has just made debut. I hope this work will play a role like the first snow for Korean literature - the beautiful snows would richly pile up on the first snow afterwards", Shin said in the reception to celebrate the book's English debut on April 6 in New York's Korean consulate.

The 48-year-old author said that the book is a dedication to all mothers in the world. "I hope while reading the novel, many readers can psychologically experience their lost or forgotten mothers revived in their hearts", she said.

The author was inspired by her mother to write the work. The novel portrays a mother from a different angle after her 15-day stay with her mother in her hometown.

"Please Look After Mom" revolves around an old mother who lives in a rural area. One day, she travels to Seoul to see her children to celebrate her birthday. But she goes missing in the hustle-and-bustle of a train station in Seoul. The mother cannot find her children's houses as she suffers Alzheimer's, but her family members aren't aware of her illness.

The compelling story is told through four voices - the daughter, son, husband, and finally, the mother, taking turns in being the narrator. In each chapter, the characters tell their memories and experiences regarding the mother. With her disappearance, they come to realize their indifference to her pain and loneliness. The mysterious story surrounding the mother's disappearance reveals the intertwined relations among family members through the process of finding the mother. The four stories told by the four family members are put together as a complete entity of the mother.

Available from Amazon

The New York Times posted a review of the book stating that Shin used the book's constant motif of contrasting Mom's rural, hands-on, family-centric life with the modern, soulless city lives that her children have chosen. "Penitence is, after all, this book's whole point. Characters' eyes begin watering, pooling with tears, brimming over, etc., as each one has the chance to realize that Mom was a treasure". It added: "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".
Jamie Ford, the New York Times bestselling author of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet", wrote a review on Amazon.com, saying: "Some books change us. They change the way we look at ourselves, the way we interact with those closest to our hearts - the way we've loved those people, or the way we've missed them or honored them or taken them hopelessly for granted. This is one of those books. This is a book that alters the way we remember".

"'Please Look After Mom' isn't merely a story of familial loss and longing, of the many veils of shame and surrender beneath one roof. This tale is a door, and once you cross its threshold, you'll never be able to go back to that comfortable place you came from. Your perceptions will be transformed. Permanently", Ford wrote.

"But as the four pillars of one family are shaken by this mysterious disappearance, we are also enriched as we learn about the wealth of emotional currency that has been exchanged over one lifetime - tender payments, and the debts owed, from children to parent, from husband to wife, from an aged mother to ... herself. This book is composed of four stories, four echoes, four promises, and four lamentations - that make a whole. This is your gentle warning, dear reader. And an invitation, to the kind of book I wish I could read again for the first time".

Shin is an acclaimed novelist with numerous bestsellers marked by painstaking records of her personal experiences. Unlike the Korean literary scene in the 1980s which was characterized by political concerns and collective values, Shin's works look into the psychological portrayals of individuals and include confessional and retrospective narrations.

She has been honored with the Manhae Literature Prize, the Dong-in Literature Prize, and the Yi Sang Literary Prize. "Please Look After Mom" is her first book to appear in English.

Shin will tour seven countries in North American region and eight in Europe after the U.S. promotion.

Available from Amazon

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