Choe Sang-Hun has penned a very nice vignette about the author Shin Kyung-sook, author of “Please Look After Mom”, a very emotional tale set in the industrial upheaval of the 70’s.
The link is here.
Korean Culture, South Korea
Thank you for sharing that story.
I thought the review of “Please look after Mom,” by Maureen Corrigan was an interesting read.
Mama Mia, who knew that Koreans outstrip Italians and Jews when it comes to mother guilt!
In other news, Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta, winner of this year’s coveted Golden Lion award for best picture and another Momma tale, seems a much less maudlin affair.
I read the novel and like it, but felt that it was not literature. The story was a bit disjointed and heavy-handed at times. The plot was a amateurish. However, the descriptions of life on the farm in the early 1960s were fascinating. This writer is a talented memoirist on the level of, say, Angela’s Ashes. She is no novelist of worth. This book was given top shelf space on the bestseller racks in the U.S. and was a flop.
@4 Agreed. I enjoyed the book and thought Shin did a great job of evoking the Korean ethos, including the constant change in Seoul neighborhoods and the busy lives of modern Seoulites, but it’s not high literature, or at least the English translation isn’t.
I didn’t read the novel, but I could see the reason for its initial bestseller ranking was entirely due to Oprah Winfrey plugging for it, a point that hasn’t received much attention here in Korea, at least not in the articles that I’ve read about the novel.
My wife read it in Korean, however, and did like it.
* * *
Popular literature is “category literature,” novels that can be readily categorized as “Westerns,” “spy novels,” “romances,” “mysteries,” “erotica,” and so on, which people choose because they like the setting and the subject matter. While it can sound like an insult to say something is popular fiction, at the end of the day it’s what most of the world is reading and so in my opinion it’s the kind of literature that matters most.
There are writers who are the best in their popular genre, and Shin’s work is really good if the joys and the trials and tribulations of the ajummatic realm interest you, or if you want to read about them to learn about Korean society, or if you just like Korean soap operas. Publishers in the US probably thought it would appeal to a certain segment of US fiction consumers who like to read about Asian-American women and their mothers, and all their concerns about life. But it’s “just” popular fiction – she writes about womanhood, and 200 years from now when Korean feminists want to know what life was once like it will be a helpful source. She doesn’t write a timeless narrative that everyone can identify with, that just happens to use Korean life as material, so her stuff has limited appeal.
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