Tag-Archive for ◊ literary prizes ◊

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.

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Author:
• Saturday, January 29th, 2011

J.M.G. Le Clezio was born in 1940 in Nice, France from French parents who were first cousins and originally from Brittany. Both their families emigrated to Mauritius in the 18th century which was at the time a British colony and where Le Clezio’s father was born.

In 1947 Le Clezio had to travel to Nigeria with his mother and brother to join their husband and father who was serving as a doctor there, during the Second World War. The family returned to Nice in 1950.

Le Clezio went to school in Nice, in 1957. With his baccalaureate in literature and philosophy in hand, he continued his studies at Bristol University, London University and l’Institut d’Etudes Littéraires in Nice. He received his M.A. Degree in 1964 from the University of Aix-en-Provence and wrote his thesis on Mexico’s early history, which entitled him to a doctorate degree at the University of Perpignan in 1983.

Le Clezio grew up with two languages, French and English. He taught at universities in Bangkok, Mexico City, Boston, Austin and Albuquerque to mention but a few.

Le Clezio has obtained several prestigious literary prizes :
Prix Renaudot in 1963, Prix Larbaud in 1972, Grand Prix Paul Morand de l’Académie française in 1980, Grand prix Jean Giono in 1997,Prix Prince de Monaco in 1998, Stig Dagermanpriset in 2008, The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 and he was rewarded the highest Mexican award for foreigners,The Aztec Eagle in 2010. He was made chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1991 and was promoted to officier de la Légion d’honneur in 2009.

Le Clezio has been married twice, in 1960 and in 1975. He has two daughters, one from each wedlock.

Le Clezio wrote and sold many books which have been translated into several languages. He is one of France’s well known prestigious contemporary writers.

His novel, Desert, was published in France in 1980. Twenty-eight years later it was singled out among all his work by the Nobel Prize Academy as his “definitive breakthrough as a novelist”.

The story of Desert is the tale of two young Moroccan teenagers from different generations, Nour and Lalla. They both belong to a nomadic tribe of warriors, called “the blue men”. They are both struggling for survival in a different way and their lives never connect. Their two stories run in parallel throughout the novel and take place in two different time periods, Nour being born in the nineteenth century and Lalla much later in the twentieth century.

The first period which starts from 1909 and ends in 1912, is related by Nour, a young teenager, whose family left everything behind to join the march with other North African tribes who also had to leave their homes, due to the advancing French colonialists pushing them out of their native land. They march stoically, an endless exhausting journey in the inclement North African desert climate, hoping to reach the haven promised by their old and wise venerated religious leader, Ma el Aïnine. Unfortunately Nour will witness the defeat of his people’s rebellion due to hunger and exhaustion against the better equipped and trained French army.

The second period which ends in the near contemporary, is the story of Lalla, a young wild and solitary teenager. She is an orphan raised by her aunt in a poor coastal, Moroccan shanty town. Lalla can’t read or write but that doesn’t seem to matter to her, as long as she can listen to her aunt’s stories and the tales of the old fisherman, Naman and as long as she is close to nature and feels part of it. Being wild at heart, she likes the sea, the sand, the animals and the insects.

Therefore, when circumstances lead Lalla to Marseilles, she feels bewildered in the big city. Completely cut off from nature she feels like a fish out of water and isn’t happy despite becoming famous as a front cover model with great career potential. Away from her beloved wild nature back home, she couldn’t survive. Lalla is a lonely young woman and the only way for her to be happy again is to go back to nature where she once belonged and where she feels the meaning of real freedom. She also longs to see her dearest, beloved deaf and dumb best friend, Hartani, the shepherd.

In Desert, the description of the landscape is so real and vivid that the reader can almost feel the heat of the scorching sand during the day, the bitter, bleak cold at night and the vastness of the endless North African desert. Nature in the novel constitutes an important part. It has its rules, its beauty, its harshness but also its whims.

Desert is not a thriller and doesn’t rely on a plot — it should be read and savoured slowly, like all good things in life. Desert is just sheer beautiful writing with a historical background and a great deal of love and compassion. A poetic profound contemplation with an enhanced enchanting leitmotiv, a sort of an ode to Nature in general and to the North African Desert and its nomadic people in particular.

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