A mother’s disappearance exposes family consciences, secrets and dependencies in the soft-spoken first English-language publication by a bestselling South Korean novelist.
An enormous publishing success in South Korea, this simple portrait of a family shocked into acknowledging the strength and heroic self-sacrifice of the woman at its center is both universal and socially specific. Park So-nyo, the illiterate mother who disappeared at Seoul Station subway, separated from her husband by the pressing crowd, has devoted her life to her marriage and children, applying herself to multiple rural occupations while encouraging all her offspring, but in particular son Hyong-chol, to fulfill his academic potential. The narration by four different family members exposes guilt and insights all around, from unmarried daughter Chi-hon, a novelist, to Park So-nyo herself.
Partly a metaphor for Korea’s social shift from rural to urban, partly an elegy to the intensity of family bonds as constructed and maintained by self-denying women, this is subdued, tender writing with only rare lapses into sentimentality.