A New Watershed in Korean Literature

Shin Kyung-sook discusses bestselling 'Please Look After Mother'

Novelist Shin Kyung-sook (C) spoke through her translator (L) with Martin Alexander (R) at Asia Society Hong Kong Center on May 8, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong Center)

HONG KONG, May 8, 2012 — "In this Explosive Magazine we have a pretty explosive magazine," commented moderator Martin Alexander, Editor In Chief of the Asia Literary Review — referencing the Asia Society Center's historic origin as an ammunition storage for the Victoria Barracks and Asia Literary Review (ALR). The event was to celebrate the launch of the latest issue of the Asia Literary Review  and the winner of the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, Shin Kyung-sook, who was ALR's guest of honor.

Alexander lauded Shin's novel Please Look After Mother as a watershed for Korean literature as it marks a new wave of Korean work to be published in English.

The book follows a family's search for their mother but "in effect, the focus is not on the mother that is lost but rather on the family. In a strange twist of fate it is the family who is searching [for] themselves," explained Shin.

Alexander added that "the book becomes the property of all men and women in discovering their mothers." Shin's inspired use of second-person narration is used to approach the mother on a deeper level. Shin emphasizes that the "story of the book is to love as long as you can, which is hopefully reinforced in the family's search."

Shin was motivated to find a way for "tradition and modernization to communicate," in a way that underscores the universality of the loss of identity. The mother becomes a symbol of what has been lost in Korea's fast-paced change from a rural to industrial society.

As the first woman and first Korean to win the Man Asian Literary Prize, Shin's achievement highlights a new exposure for, and focus on, Korean literary work. Many now await the release, following translation, of her other books, I'll Be Right There and A Solitary Room.

Reported by Laura Mapstone

Video: Watch the complete program (58 min., 58 sec.)