Tag-Archive for ◊ Arts ◊

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:
• Friday, April 24th, 2015

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1963 from a novelist mother, Jeanne Ray, and a police officer father, Frank Patchett. She went to high school at St. Bernard Academy, which is a private catholic school for girls. After graduating, she attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she took fiction writing classes followed by Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa. In 1990 she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Centre in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint Of Liars.

Patchett has written fiction and non fiction books. She received the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Nashville Banner Tennessee Writer of the Year Award in 1994 and in 2002 she won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the PEN, Faulkner Award for her breakthrough fourth novel, Bel Canto, which sold over a million copies in the USA and has been translated into several languages. She lives with her physician husband in Nashville Tennessee.

Bel Canto is set in a nameless Latin American country, where the world famous American lyric soprano, Roxane Coss, is hired to sing at a cosmopolitan reception held in the luxirious mansion of the vice president, Ruben Iglesias, in honour of an influential Japanese businessman, Mr. Katsumi Hosokawa, founder and chairman of the successful electronics company, Nansei. The poor host country has arranged this very costly party to celebrate Mr. Hosokawa’s fifty-third birthday, hoping to attract investment and knowing that he would attend in order to listen to his favourite opera singer, Roxane Coss, whom he has been following in concert halls all around the world.

At the end of Coss’s last aria from Rusalka by Dvorak and at the end of an excellent evening, a rebel group called: La Familia de Martin Suarez – three generals and fifteen soldiers aged between fourteen to twenty recruited from the country side – disrupt the gathering to kidnap the president of the country who is not present because he preferred to stay at home to watch his favourite television soap opera. So instead of president Masuda, the entire party is taken hostage. Later on the women and children will be released and thirty nine men plus Roxane Coss will be retained as hostages for four and a half months.

After the fear and panic subside and after a period of readaptation on both sides when the kidnappers find nowhere to go nor how to deal with the unexpected situation of their failed plan, an amazingly beautiful bond of solidarity, love and friendship between captors and captives and among the hostages themselves develops. This is regardless of outside pressure and the constant visits of the International Red Cross worker, Joachim Messner. This fascinating relationship shows that people can become friendly and compassionate with strangers given the chance, and that nobody can be completely bad beyond retrieval, so there is still a hope for humankind.

As the days and months pass, the very young abductors discover their hidden talents. Ishmael becomes a good chess player, only by intently observing his general playing some games with Mr. Hosokawa – the two being good chess players. Cesar can now sing operatic parts learnt from listening to Roxane’s singing and Carmen is fast learning the various languages taught to her by her lover, Gen. Even the Nansei Electronics vice president, Tetsuya Kato, who is usually dealing with numbers, lets his pianistic talent surface. He is only too happy to be Roxane Coss’s new accompanist after the unfortunate death of her Swedish one.

Roxane Coss becomes the revered idol of everybody. Captors as well as captives succumb to her every whim. She is treated like the diva she really is and in return she delights her audience everyday with her delightful arias from Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally, arias from Vincenzo Bellini, Paolo Tosti, and Franz Schubert’s Die Forelle. They are all now held captive by her beautiful singing and don’t wish to be released from their abductors. She knows that she is a very special, gifted star and enjoys the bewitching effect she has on her audience.

The Japanese gentleman, Mr. Hosokawa, is for the first time facing real passion after experiencing it only virtually all these years, when every evening at home he listens to the bel canto after a hard day’s work. Now he is living a dream and doesn’t want it to end. What could he have wished for more than living with his adored opera singer, Roxane Coss, and hearing her practising her delightful singing every day. For him it’s a pleasure beyond imagination and is even more enhanced when the spiritual meets carnal desire in the early hours of the morning in the bed of his beloved, Roxane, who shares his sentiment.

Gen Watanabe, Mr. Hosokawa’s private Japanese translator, is a professionally gifted polyglot, now working full time translating important as well as trivial matters for everyone, the abductors as well as the abducted. He is surrounded by people of various languages and nationalities: Argentinians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Germans, Danes, French, Italians, Russians and English. He attains his reward after a hard day’s work when, hidden in the china cupboard, he makes love every day at two o’clock in the morning with one of his captors, his beloved, beautiful, Carmen, who is also madly in love with him.

Bel Canto is a well-written story with subtle, well depicted characters although viewed under a stereotypical eye. There is the polite bowing of the Japanese men, mentioned often in the novel. The French diplomat, Simon Thibault, who is passionately in love with his wife, Edith, and who volunteers to do the cooking because “he’s French. The French know how to cook”. Then there is the ardent and heavy smoker, the Russian Muscovite, Victor Fyodorov, who bores Coss with his irrelevant childhood stories as an introduction to his love declaration for her. There is also the conscientiously serious German Lothar, a vice president of the pharmaceutical company Hoechst, who feels deeply sad about the death of Roxane Coss’s piano accompanist because of a lack of insulin, given that his company is a leading manufacturer of the drug.

All indulgent, happy, leisurely moments have an end in real life and operas by definition have dramatic endings. Since the novel is called Bel Canto, the dénouement of the story is like an opera finale – dramatically moving.