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Deaf to her cries

· «Take Care of Her» by Kyung-Sook Shin ·

“It has been a week since Mama has disappeared.” It is afternoon in a metro station of a large city in a country in the East. Two old parents have just been to visit their children who live in the city and are now amongst the crowd trying to catch the train that will take them back to the country. The husband manages to get on board, but when he turns around, he realizes that his wife is no longer there. A woman without money or identification disappears, swallowed up in the immense city of Seoul. So begins the latest novel of Kyung-Sook Shin, Prenditi cura di lei ( Take Care of Her , Vicenza, Neri Pozza 2011, pp 217, 16.50 euro) which tells the story of an entire family dealing with this sudden disappearance.

The book has been a clamorous success: 2 million copies sold in South Korea, where the writer was born in 1963; 100,000 copies sold in the United States in the first printing. “I wanted to show,” said Kyung-Sook Shin, “that the mother is, yes, a point of strength, the root of the family, but is also fragile and sensitive.” The narration happens on two levels which intersect continually, giving life to a rich, final tapestry.

In the drama of the disappearance of the old woman, the family is destroyed by a sense of guilt. Guilt which goes back in time for not having understood her, known her, really loved her (“before you lost your wife in the Seoul station, she was only the mother of your children to you… she was like a tenacious tree: a tree which stands the test of time, if it is not cut down or taken away. When the mother of your children disappeared, you understood that your wife had disappeared. Your wife, whom you had forgotten for fifty years, was a presence in your heart.”) More recent feelings of guilt also for not seeing the unequivocal signs of the woman’s illness, because of lack of time, superficiality and especially, egotism.

In fact, they were all blind to her mental confusion because it was convenient. After she had spent her life taking care of them, it was easy for her husband and her children to pretend not to notice her weakness, and not hear her cries for help, and still expect her to be there for them. And so, when the old woman is truly in need of help, no one is there for her.




St. Peter’s Square

June 17, 2019