Kyung-sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or mother) wins the Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011

In late October last year, twelve books from across Asia were longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and in January, they were whittled down to an unusually long shortlist of seven. Today, one emerged the winner: And woo hoo! It’s our Shadow team’s pick, Kyung-sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or mother).

Now, I’ll have to wait to see what the judges say about their choice, but there you have it!

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

In the meantime, below is just a little info about the judges … and, in particular, about the chair, Razia Iqbal.


The judges for the 2011 prize were Razia Iqbal (Chair), BBC Special Correspondent; Chang-rae Lee, Pulitzer-prize finalist & author of The Surrendered; and Vikas Swarup author of Q&A, the movie adaptation Slumdog Millionaire.

Iqbal said recently that her criteria for judging were:

the quality of the reading experience; that you feel that the book coheres, that the structure of the novel was coherent.

The books she liked most when growing up were, she said, those with links to the Asian continent, such as books by Salman Rushdie and Hanif Kureishi who

wrote about what it meant to be Asian in a globalised world, what it meant to come from a multi-cultural city like London, which I could relate to. Their writing incorporated elements of polyphony and hybridity which were part of my own experience, whilst people like James Baldwin and Richard Wright reflected what it was to be an outsider. Literature allows you to navigate your place in the world in a profound way for a lot of people.

For reviews of all books by our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize team, see my Man Asian Literary Prize page.

Announcing the “Shadow” Man Asian Literary Prize 2011

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Our announcement …

In a carefully co-ordinated announcement across three continents – Europe, North America and Australia – I am now able to announce that the Shadow team’s winner for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize is: Please Look After Mother (or Mom) by Kyung-sook Shin.

It was – and was not – an easy decision. It was an easy decision because some of the Shadow team loved the book, and it was not because others did not. However, when we tallied our individual rankings Kyung-sook Shin’s book came out on top. I’m not sorry, of course, because I liked it. Members of our team described it as ‘a heart-warming story of family’, ‘a deceptively simple novel’,  and ‘a splendid work of literary fiction.’

I managed to read 6 of the 7 shortlisted books. (My review of Amitav Ghosh’s River of smoke will be posted in a day or so). I did find it somewhat hard to rank them as, I think, did most of our members. Here is my assessment of their prize chances (which, funnily enough, roughly equates with my rankings):

  • My top choices: Please look after mother (or Mom) and Dream of Ding Village. 
  • My runners up: Rebirth and River of smoke
  • Dark horse: Wandering falcon
  • My long shot: The lake

Unfortunately, I only managed to read a few pages of The sly company of people who care.

The formal stuff…

The ‘Shadow’ MAN Asian Literary Prize is entirely independent of the official MAN Asian Literary Prize, whose winner will be announced on Thursday March 15, and of the MAN Group. The ‘Shadow’ Prize is intended to highlight the main Prize by broadening the discussion about the long- and short-listed titles via the social networking community. Links to all ‘Shadow’ Jury reviews and interviews can be found on my Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize page.

I would like to thank all the members of the Shadow team: Lisa at ANZLitLovers; Matt at A Novel Approach; Fay at Read, Ramble; Stu (who is now hosting a Shadow International Foreign Fiction Prize) at Winston’s Dad, and Mark at Eleutherophobia.

Special thanks to:

  • Kevin from Kevin from Canada whose concept of the Shadow Giller Prize provided our inspiration;
  • Matt who designed the Logo;
  • Mark who has coordinated the press releases across the globe; and last but not least
  • Lisa for asking me to join the group.

All we have to do now is wait until Thursday to see what book the official jury chooses! And whichever it is, it’s sure to be a good’un!

NOTE: There will be no Monday Musings this week: the announcement of our Shadow Man Asian winner has overshadowed it! Watch this space again next week!

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Update

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

The observant among you will have noticed that I haven’t done a Man Asian Literary Prize weekly round-up of reviews and news for a couple of weeks now. This is because our reviews have slowed down now to a crawl and hardly warrant a weekly post from me. The most recent reviews posted have been:

  • Jahnavi Barua’s Rebirth by Matt, of A Novel Approach and Lisa, of ANZLitLovers, both of whom are positive about the book.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom by Fay, of Read Ramble. She’s written a rather passionate defence of the book, addressing the negatives put forward by some reviewers. This is probably the most controversial of the shortlisted books …

While I stopped posting regular roundups, I have been updating my page of reviews* as new reviews have (dribbled) come in. Please check it out whenever you wand to find team members’ reviews of the longlisted books. Some of our reviewers have been very assiduous, reading and reviewing most if not all of the books. As for me? I am currently reading two of the books and hope to review them before …

We make our shadow winner announcement. We plan to do this a few days before March 15, which is when the official announcement will be made.

Watch this space …

* Shortlisted books are indicated by an asterisk in this page.

Kyung-Sook Shin, Please look after mom (Review for the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011)

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Am I right in thinking that mothers are more often the subject of novels and memoirs than fathers? Or, is it just that I’m a woman and am subconsciously (or even consciously, if I’m honest) drawn to the topic? Of course, with the Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize reviewing project I didn’t really have a choice. Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom (or, mother in the British edition) has now been shortlisted for the prize. So, here I am again, reading about a mother!

And I liked it – for a number of reasons. But, before I explain that, a quick overview of the plot. The book commences with the line “It’s been one week since Mom went missing”. We learn pretty quickly that the mother and father had been in Seoul to visit some of their children and had become separated when trying to board the subway together, with the mother being left behind. The rest of the book chronicles the family’s search for the mother and, as they search, their reflections on her life and their relationship with her.

So, what did I find fascinating? Firstly, of course, is the fact that it is set in South Korea. I haven’t been there, and I don’t think I’ve read any Korean literature before, so I was predisposed to be interested before I started it. I wasn’t disappointed. The novel is contemporary but spans a few decades, decades in which many of the current parental generation were still living fairly traditional rural lives while their children were being educated and moving to the city to chase “bigger” dreams. Through flashback reflections of the various characters we learn about this time of transition, and the challenges both generations faced in coping with the change. We learn of the mother’s determination that her children be educated, the lengths she went to to obtain the money to pay for this education, and her disappointment when one daughter trained to be a pharmacist but then married and had three children in pretty quick succession. It’s a story that’s been repeated around the world over the last century or two, and the usual universals are there – the economic challenges and all those big and little conflicts that attend social change – but each situation has its particularity. In this book it’s in how this specific family functions – the mother’s determination springing from her own lack of education, the self-centred father’s unreliability resulting in increased poverty for the family, the sibling relationships characterised by a mix of mutual responsibility, love and exasperation.

The next thing of interest is the form. Readers here know I like books which play around with form and voice, and this is one of those books. The story is told in five parts, using four points of view and three different voices. Got that? To make it easy, I’ll list how it goes:

  • “Nobody knows”, told by the elder daughter (but second eldest child), Chi-hon, in second person
  • “I’m sorry, Hyong-chol”, told by the eldest child, son Hyong-chol, in third person
  • “I’m home”, told by the father/husband, in second person
  • “Another woman”, told by the mother, Park So-nyo, in first person
  • “Epilogue: Rosewood rosary”, told by Chi-hon (again), in second person.

As is common in multiple point-of-view novels, the main narrative, the story of the search, progresses more or less chronologically through these parts, with each part also incorporating some back-and-forth flashbacks in which we learn about that person’s relationship with “mom”. This multiple point-of-view technique provides a lovely immediacy to the different perspectives. The choice of different voices – first, second and third – though, is an intriguing one. Here is how I see it. First person for “mom” makes sense since she is the subject. Second person feels like a half-way house between the intimate first person and the more distant third person. Using it for Chi-hon and her father, to speak about themselves, subtly conveys a tension between their responsibility for “mom” (which would be expected of their roles as elder daughter and husband) and their regret and guilt for their failings. Third person, on the other hand, seems appropriate for Hyong-chol who, as the oldest in the family, carries the major weight of familial responsibility into the future. It’s the most distant voice and gives, I think, a layer of gravitas to his role.

And last is the theme – or, should I say, themes? The lesser, if I can call them that, themes include the country-vs-city one, particularly in relation to values; literacy and education; and our mutual responsibility for others (something, the family discovers,”mom” took seriously for friends and strangers as well as her family throughout her life). The overriding theme, though, is that of guilt and regret, of having taken “mom” for granted. They all assumed she liked cooking and being in the kitchen, day in day out. The children forgot to call her regularly and didn’t always come home for special occasions. Her husband remembers all the times he failed to help her, while she would put herself out repeatedly for him. It’s a pretty common story but the way Kyung-sook Shin tells it – the form, the reflective tone, the characterisation, the setting – makes this universal story about, really, respect a very personal one. I admit to being a little choked up at the end!

I have one little query though, and that relates to the invocation of Catholicism in the end. “Mom” does, early in the novel, ask about a rosewood rosary, thus providing a link to the the Epilogue, but where did this interest in the rosary come from, given the frequent references to the more traditional ancestral rites during the book? Mom doesn’t explain it – “I just want prayer rosary beads from that country”, “the smallest country in the world”, she says. I assume it has something to do with the recent growth of Catholicism in South Korea. It didn’t spoil the book for me, but it provided a somewhat odd note. All I can say is read the book for yourself, and see what you think.

Please click on my Man Asian Literary Prize page link for reviews by other members of the team.

Kyung-Sook Shin
Please look after mom
(trans. by Chi-Young Kim)
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
ISBN: 9780307593917

Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Shortlist announced

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

… And my preferred two books – those by Ahmad and Yoshimoto – of the three I’ve read are in the final seven books. Woo hoo … but I have a lot to read to catch up to the rest of the team.

The shortlisted books are:

  • Jamil Ahmad’s Wandering falcon
  • Jahnavi Barua‘s Rebirth
  • Rahul Bhattacharya’s The sly company of people who care
  • Amitav Ghosh‘s River of smoke
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mom
  • Yan Lianke‘s Dream of Ding Village
  • Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake

You can find our  Shadow team’s reviews by clicking the team logo in the blog sidebar or by clicking on the Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 page.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 26-31

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 7 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project and we’re moving along with less than two weeks now to the shortlist announcement. This week’s reviews are:

  • Jahnavi Barua‘s Rebirth (India) by Fay of Read, Ramble who thinks it has some interesting things to say about women’s lives in contemporary India but feels that it’s not fully successful as a novel
  • Amitav Ghosh‘s River of smoke (India) by Mark of Eleutherophobia. Mark liked it, with some reservations. He feels it’s a little overambitious, trying to do too much, but nonetheless calls it an “epic, intense, richly rewarding novel”.
  • Haruki Murakami‘s IQ84 (Japan) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa didn’t like it much, echoing many of the bloggers’ reviews I’ve read, including Matt who has also reviewed it for our project.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mother (Korea) by Mark of Eleutherophobia who liked it, calling it “a quaintly crafted story”.

And, of course, if you missed it, I posted my second review for the project this week: Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake. My next one will be Jamil Ahmad’s The wandering falcon.

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 11-17

Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 5 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project and we’re moving along with quite a bumper crop of reviews this week  …

  • Haruki Murakami‘s IQ84 (Japan) by Matt of A Novel Approach. Matt, a student of Japanese literature, has mixed feelings. He calls it unwieldy, though he also admits that he’s not a Murakami fan.
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Fay of Read, Ramble. Fay, like Matt and me, admired the writing but had reservations about the whole.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mother (or Mom, depending on your version) (Korea) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa didn’t like it as much as Stu and Matt did from our team. I guess that’s one that she won’t have to worry about choosing from!
  • Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake (Japan) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She’s not overly impressed by it, stating that this “tale of adolescent introspection dressed up as a surreal mystery looks very slight indeed”. I liked Kitchen, the first (and only) Yoshimoto book I’ve read, but that was a long time ago now. I look forward to seeing what I think about The lake which will be my next read for the project.

And, of course, if you missed it, I did finally manage my first review for the project this week: Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth.

Kyung-Sook Shin, Please look after mother (Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011)

location of South Korea

Locator Map of South Korea (Courtesy: Seb az86556, using CC-BY-3.0, via Wikipedia)

Two of the Man Asian Literary Prize team have cheated! They read and reviewed Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin before our team was formed, and are showing me up big-time. I bear no grudge though and happily point you to their reviews. We are, as they say, on our way!

Shin Kyung-sook was born in South Korea in 1963. She has written several novels though few have been translated into English – and has won major literary awards in her country.

It’s exciting, in fact, that our first reviews represent a country – South Korea – that many of us (speaking for myself at least) are not well read in. This diversity – with books from such places as Iran, South Korea, and Bangladesh as well as from the bigger countries like China, India and Japan – has to be one of the best things about the Man Asian Literary Prize.

PS Apologies for the unusual rapid fire of posts this week. I promise I won’t keep filling up your inboxes/readers/feeds like this – I couldn’t keep it up anyhow!