In Her Fiction, Modern South Korea Lives and Breathes

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International Herald Tribune, September 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

In Her Fiction, Modern South Korea Lives and Breathes


Sang-Hun, Choe, International Herald Tribune


The prize-winning novel "Please Look Afer Mom" is part of a body of work over three decades that has set its author apart as one of the best chroniclers of modern life in her country.

Like so many South Korean parents at the time, Shin Kyung-sook's mother saw education as her daughter's best chance of escaping poverty and back-breaking work in the rice fields. So in 1978, she took her 15-year-old daughter to Seoul, where Ms. Shin would lie about her age to get a factory job while attending high school at night to pursue her dream of becoming a novelist.

Seoul-bound trains at the time, like the one mother and daughter boarded that night, picked up many rural young people like Ms. Shin along the way -- part of the migration that fueled South Korea's industrialization but forever changed its traditional family life.

It is that social upheaval that Ms. Shin evoked in her most famous novel to date, "Please Look After Mom," which earned her the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize and a commercial success attained by few other Korean writers (sales in South Korea at two million and climbing, and publication in 19 other countries). That book and a more recent one, "I Will Be Right There," about friendship and love and set in the country's political turmoil of the 1980s, are part of a body of work over three decades that has set Ms. Shin apart as one of the best chroniclers of modern South Korea.

"In her novels, readers have the chance to pause and reflect upon the other side of their society's breakneck race for economic growth, what they have lost in that pursuit, and upon people who were left behind in the mad rush," said Shin Soo-jeong, a professor of Korean literature at Myongji University in Seoul.

In "Please Look After Mom," an elderly woman whose children have left the hardscrabble life of the family farm disappears during a trip to visit them in Seoul. Reviewers have called her disappearance a metaphor for the profound sense of loss in a society that hurtled from an agrarian dictatorship to an industrialized democracy within a single and often tumultuous generation.

That feeling has not overwhelmed South Koreans' pride in their country's accomplishments, notably its rise from poverty to the world's 13th-largest economy. But it taps into a growing unease over some of the costs of that success, especially a widening gap between rich and poor and a generation of elderly people left largely to fend for themselves.

Until a generation ago, at least one adult child -- usually the eldest son and his family -- would live with aging parents until their deaths. Now, a growing number of older people live alone in their rural homes or in the nursing facilities that are springing up across the country. For them, old-age security meant not pensions or personal savings, but investing in the education of their children in the expectation that the children would prosper and eventually care for them. But now, with their offspring abandoning them for jobs in the cities, that traditional social contract of reciprocity and the family bonds underpinning it are fast weakening, and for many elderly people, the safety net is gone.

The guilt of children who benefited from their parents' drive to give them a better life is palpable in "Please Look After Mom," when the city-dwelling daughter realizes that she and her siblings have been so detached they did not even realize that their mother was so ill that she could barely feed herself or their neglectful father. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

In Her Fiction, Modern South Korea Lives and Breathes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.