Tag-Archive for ◊ cities ◊

Author:
• Friday, February 24th, 2017

Shin Kyung-Sook was born in 1963 in a village near Jeongeup, north Jeolla Province, in southern South Korea, from humble farmer parents who lacked the financial means to send her to high school. She was the fourth child and eldest daughter of six. At the age of sixteen Shin joined her elder brother in Seoul where she worked at an electronics plant while at the same time attending evening classes.

After graduating as a creative writing major from the Seoul Institute Of Arts, Shin published her first novella “Winter’s Fable” which earned her the 1985 Literary Joongang Newcomer’s Prize.

Shin’s work consists of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She has received several literary prizes and awards and is the most acclaimed writer in South Korea. Please Look After Mother has been translated into several languages and won the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. It was originally published in Korean in 2008 and in English in 2011.

Presently Shin divides her timetable between Seoul and New York City, where she teaches as a visiting scholar at Colombia University.

Please Look After Mother starts with the one week missing, sixty-nine-year-old illiterate, hard-working peasant, Park So-nyo, who was with her husband on their way to visit their children in Seoul. She is separated from her husband, who is walking fast, ahead of her as usual, in Seoul’s crowded central railway station. The distracted husband boards the congested train in a hurry while his wife is left behind on the platform.

Park So-nyo’s husband and her four adult children, two sons and two daughters, undertake a thorough search to try to find her. The businessman, Hyong-chol, is the eldest son and the successful novelist, Chi-hon, is the eldest daughter.

Park So-nyo’s disappearance leads to a strange mixed feeling in her family, realising that they didn’t really know her well and took her for granted all these years without showing her any gratitude and without ever devoting time to appreciate the love and sacrifice of this kind, affable and generous woman.

Please Look After Mother, Shin’s sixth novel and her first to be translated into other languages, is a short, powerful and heavily emotional book. It is divided into four chapters plus an epilogue. The first chapter concerns the daughter, Chi-hon and the third chapter belongs to Park So-nyo’s husband. The narration in these two chapters is in the uncommon second-person style which lends the novel a note of personal intimacy as well as a general accusatory tone.

In the second chapter, Hyong-chol, Park So-nyo’s favourite child is the focal point. And by a twist from the author, in the fourth chapter the mother reappears as a ghost – suggesting that she has already passed away – to narrate her side of the story which is the most evocative and lyrical part of the novel.

In the poignant, melodramatic, short epilogue, Shin leads the story through a spiritual path by taking the maternal love and devotion to a higher level, turning it into self-martyrdom worthy of sanctity. The author goes to the extent of comparing Park So-nyo to the virgin Mary in Michael Angelo’s “Pietà” and the novel ends with Chi-hon praying and pleading to the virgin Mary to look after her mother.

Each chapter conveys the thoughts, the feelings, the guilt and remorse of each one of the characters. The different narrations as they unravel gradually, constitute the multifaceted story that forms the full image of the matriarch’s character and illustrates the veracity and inner self of each member of the family.

The reader learns that Park So-nyo is a kind-hearted, tough, resilient and determined, solitary woman who is averse to pity and therefore suffers silently from brain cancer, while her family is too busy ignoring the symptoms of her debilitating, dangerous disease. And although poor and in fragile health, she continues to devote herself to helping the less fortunate than her. She gives assistance and comfort to the destitute Un’gyu, his sick wife and to his newly born baby. She is also a donor and a helper in the local orphanage as well as a devoted, self sacrificing mother and wife.

In Please Look After My Mother, the author tackles an important subject by placing in juxtaposition rural and urban life and their effects on societies by creating an unbalance with the increasing social shift from one to the other : a common preoccupation world-wide, not only in South Korea. Young people from the countryside migrating to the big cities, whether they seek education or work in the hope of a better life. They end up settling in the big city leaving their parents behind and nobody to look after the parents or to take over the agricultural land.

In one of her interviews Shin says about her novel: “We’ve taken it for granted that our mothers are always here beside us and devoted to us. We think they are born to be mothers. But they were once girls and women as we are now. I want to show it through this book. My mother is the energy behind my writings.”

How far back can we remember a human being? And how far does the memory of a mother last? Please Look After Mother is a moving, gloomy story, a hymn and a tribute to maternal love and a contemplation on motherhood. A good insight into Korean culture, values, food, festivals and political changes.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment
Author:
• Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Eva Hoffman (née Ewa Wydra) was born of Jewish parents in Cracow, Poland in 1945. Despite being musically gifted she had to abandon her piano classes at the age of thirteen, to emigrate to Vancouver, Canada with her parents and younger sister.

After graduating from high school, she travelled to the USA upon receiving a scholarship for studying English literature at Rice University, Texas where she obtained her M.A., followed by Yale School of Music from 1967 to 1968. In 1974 she received a Ph.D. in English and American literature from Harvard University.

She studied psychoanalysis and commenced a training analysis course in London, England but had to give it up as it was too ambitious for her.

Eva Hoffman has been a professor of literature and creative writing at various universities and colleges. She worked from 1979 to 1990 as an editor and writer for The New York Times and has received several awards and prizes for her work.

She married Barry Hoffman in 1971, divorced in 1976 and moved to England in 1993 where she now lives in Hampstead in north London.

Eva Hoffman is the writer of Lost in Translation published in 1989, Exit into History in 1993, Shtetl in 1997, The Secret in 2001, After Such Knowledge in 2004, Illuminations in 2008 and Time in 2009.

Isabel Merton, the novel’s protagonist is a New Yorker. She is a famous, gifted pianist who often goes on concert tours all over Europe. She is overpowered by her passion for classical music to the extent of separating from her loving husband, Peter, in order to dedicate her life to this fine art. She is hoping to reach the nirvana through this highly pure form of pianistic sounds.

While travelling across Europe for her concerts, Isabel’s path crosses in several cities with the charismatically handsome, Anzor Islikhanov, a cultured Chechen activist, an itinerant like her. They both have a passionate character in common but different commitment targets. The inevitable happens – they fall in love.

The passing passion between Isabel and Anzor is doomed to fail despite the love and attention they need due to the lack of parental affection and care from which they both suffered. Anzor’s dog is killed by his cruel, apathetic father, for a futile reason and Isabel’s divorced mother abandons her and her younger brother, Kolya. Kolya ends-up dying of a drug overdose, even though Isabel was always trying to comfort him and substitute the uncaring, absent mother.

Isabel’s entire life is driven by her devotion to her art, it’s her “raison d’être”.“She summons the poetry of Chopin’s last Ballade, so shot through with anger and anguish, as if it could heal death and all sorrow… As if, after they’ve been broken and injured, things could be made whole”. We learn from her former German teacher’s diary, Ernst Wolfe, that she had a promising future as a pianist. This diary she carries with her and reads during her travels.

As for Anzor, his life is dedicated to his homeland. His patriotism has turned into rage, hatred and revenge against the Russians. For him fighting is the only solution to gaining back the country’s sovereignty, his honour and self-respect. He says to Isabel: “We’re fighting for our survival. Our freedom… Freedom as that artist would never understand it… I cannot breathe free when my country does not breathe free”. After listening to Anzor, Isabel “wants to flee to her practice room; to her music, in which violence and rage are already transmuted into beauty…As if violence held no dominion over beauty”. Because she has no other means “with which to answer the guerilla, or the terrorist. Or herself”.

Illuminations is well written and has interesting themes, like the beauty of classical music in contrast with the ugly violence, in addition to romanticism and psychoanalysis. The musical metaphors involving Chopin, Schumann or Schubert are very well described showing the author’s knowledge and natural affinity for music. As Isabel says to her interviewer, Mariella, about classical music: “This beautiful vocabulary of the soul… where else do we find it? …music doesn’t refer to anything. Except itself. So it doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t explain anything and it is…Illuminations”.

The drawback of this novel is its repetitiveness which induces monotony, maybe intended by the author? Because, whether it’s London, Paris, Prague, Sofia or Vienna, it’s always the same airports, the same hotels, the same concert halls, the same apprehensive feeling before every concert and the aftermath, emptiness and forlornness. Also the recurrent conversations between the two protagonists are always the persistently bitter Anzor talking about the injustice his people are enduring while the world is turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to their problem. As for Isabel, she always listens to his conversation with complete bewilderment as she is trying to comprehend his logic.

A novel for classical music lovers about the role and power of music in a world driven by materialism and violence and the contrast between the two values and their relevance in today’s life. It’s written by a musically trained author who preferred to pursue a career in writing rather than follow her pianistic talent.

Category: Book Reviews  | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  | Leave a Comment