I will start by saying that this book made me cry. A lot. I was halfway through it, and I already knew I was going to cry at some point. I felt it build up inside of me. I managed to hold it in until the end, but once I reached the last page I gave up, and let myself cry over what is probably one of the most powerful stories I have read in 2018.
The plot is pretty simple: Park So-Nyo, an elderly lady, mother of four, goes missing while waiting to catch a train with her husband in a crowded Seoul underground station. In the process of searching for her, her family’s daily life is shaken up. Her sons and daughters begin recalling the moments they have spent with her growing up in their tiny rural hometown in the South Korean countryside, noticing details they never paid attention to before and seeing for the first time how they always took her for granted. How she was Mom, an unchanging, eternal, almost abstract presence, everyone too busy with their lives and aspirations to realize that she might, one day, be gone. Through their memories, we learn about how Park So-Nyo lived and how she always sacrificed herself for her family, quietly, keeping her own problems hidden so that others wouldn’t worry.
The search for their mother is an emotional journey, and a clever second person narration forces the reader to identify with her children, feeling the weight and implications on a more personal level, as if we, too, had lost our own mother in the crowd. This is, in fact, what makes the story so powerful, and what made me often feel so close to tears. As someone who has – I believe – a good relationship with her mother (we talk a lot, and do so much together), the more I went on reading, the more I felt a little voice inside of me saying, “don’t take her for granted, do all you can to notice everything she does for you, and take every chance you have to thank her.” It’s a message that we all need to remember, especially in a time and age where we are all so busy and lost in our own worlds.
One more thing I appreciated about this novel is the description of the life in the Korean countryside, the history of the country in the second half of the 20th century, the traditions, the family rituals and popular beliefs. A very interesting insight in the life of a nation I personally love, but that we don’t hear much of here in the West.
I can’t stress enough how much I recommend this book. It’s powerful and delicate at the same time, and it makes you stop for a second, look around, and reconsider what is really important in life. A lovely read, one of those that stay with you for a long time, even after you have closed the book and put it back on the shelf.