“You had never thought of Mother as separate from the kitchen.”
I think I’m a pretty good person. And the people in this book – all fine people. Not terrors of the human race by any means. But it’s a story of guilt and regret, and those feelings washed over me whenever I opened the pages.
The book begins with a family who has lost their mother. How could that happen is a fair question. But if you have been to Seoul, maybe you have a better idea of how an elderly woman who (we slowly learn) is suffering from physical health issues and what seems to be at least the beginnings of dementia can disappear into a crowd at a subway station as her husband gets on the train and is left behind then never seen again.
Each chapter is told from a different person’s point of view (with an interesting use of the second person which pretty much is never used outside of dialogue and was a little trippy at first). There’s the oldest daughter, oldest child/son, other daughter, father and then mother as a sort of spirit because SPOILER it does not end well exactly.
I don’t know if it’s really feasible to write a whole novel about a missing mother and putting up posters about it, so of course throughout we learn the family’s history and secrets, which I won’t give away because read the book yourself! But I will say you get caught in their lives pretty fast, and you feel their pain and their shame, deserved or not.
The theme of the novel – taking things for granted, not appreciating something until it’s gone – isn’t really innovative. And the slow reveal of family conflict or secrets in the wake of tragedy is also a fairly common narrative ploy. But I did find the book fresh and interesting, largely due to the setting. As someone who spent 6 weeks in Seoul and has a very rudimentary grasp of Korean culture, I welcomed the peak into more traditional and rural Korean life, everything from sleeping mats to ancestral rites to life in the Korean war. I could also taste the kimchi every time it was mentioned, which makes me think a Korean dinner date is in my near future – if you’re in Toronto, Korean Village is where it’s at (that’s a restaurant, not an actual village).
Of course, despite the differences, we’re all people and I could relate. Not to losing my mom but certainly to reflecting on all she’s done for me and recognizing that I probably don’t appreciate it enough.
Anyway, I’d just like to take this opportunity to say thanks mom. Please don’t take subways ever. (And shout-out to my dad who is also great and probably wouldn’t lose my mom but he does have really long legs and walks fast so who knows anything could happen BE CAREFUL).