the guardian Tue 01 May 2012
Kyung-Sook Shin's tale of an elderly woman who goes missing on the Seoul underground has hit a nerve, winning the Man Asian literary prize and selling more than 2m copies in South Korea. It certainly taps the universal tendency to take one's mother for granted, as the children of the missing woman decide to distribute a recent photograph, then discover that none of them possesses one. There are sightings of a disoriented figure in blue plastic sandals eating out of restaurant dustbins, yet she slips out of the narrative as obliquely as she absents herself from family portraits. A variety of different voices come into play, including that of a black-bellied plover who seems to represent the family's ancestral voice; and leads you to suspect that mother's disappearance is really a metaphor for the greater erosion of spiritual values: "When people started to hold ancestral rites in time-share vacation homes, they worried whether the spirits would be able to find them, but now people just say 'Ancestors, I'll be back' and go to the airport."