Kyung-sook Shin

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Kyung-sook Shin

Interview with the Award-Winning Author

Kyung-sook Shin is a celebrated author in her native South Korea. She made her literary debut in 1985, winning the Munye Joongang New Author Prize for her novella Winter Fables. She recently came to international attention as a result of her latest book, “Please Look After Mom,” being translated into many languages and set for distribution in 33 countries. The book is about a mother who disappears and the family’s desperate search to find her. It won the prestigious Man Asian Literary Prize for 2011, the Asian equivalent of the Man Booker Prize. Both the first Korean and the first woman to win the prize, she beat celebrated Asian authors such as Haruki Murakami and Anuradha Roy. TJ’s Hong Kong correspondent David Nunan caught up with Ms. Shin at the recent Hong Kong International Literary Festival where she was a featured speaker.

DN: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

K-s S: My dream to become a writer came very naturally to me. I grew up in the rural countryside, a long way from the city. We raised animals like cows and chickens, and then we would kill them and eat them. I had many siblings, many brothers who would bring books home and leave them lying around. I read them and fell in love with literature. Many of the questions I had about life were answered in the books. I loved the characters and felt that I was experiencing the same thing. So my dream to become an author was very natural to me. When I was 16, I went to Seoul to go to high school, and my love of literature got deeper there.

DN:Congratulations on winning the Man Asia Prize – that’s wonderful. As I read “Please Look After Mom”, I wondered how much of it was autobiographical. Your background is very similar to the daughter in the novel. She went to Seoul to study like you, and, like you, she is also a novelist. To what extent, then, is the novel autobiographical?

K-s S:The family in Please Look After Mom has many similarities to my own family, but it wasn’t just my family. There were many families at that time that were similar. The first chapter draws very much on my own life, but it wasn’t just about me and my family; it was about Korean society in general. Even though the story is about me to begin with, by the end of the story, it is about other people. It’s not just my story, it’s the story of other people as well. I’ve been asked that question many times before. One day, one person asked me: “So did you find your mom?” And of course, my mom was never missing. The mother in the book is not just “mother.” She symbolizes many things – a kind of archetype of the traditional mother who is disappearing from contemporary Korean society. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.

Written By:

David Nunan

Tokyo Journal columnist Dr. David Nunan is a former president of the TESOL International Association, the world's largest language teaching organization and the world's leading textbook series author. Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Anaheim University Graduate School of Education, David is a world-renowned linguist and best- selling author of English language teaching textbooks for such publishers as Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Thomson Learning. His English language teaching textbook series Go For It is the largest selling textbook series in the world with total sales exceeding 2.5 billion books. David has been involved in teaching graduate programs for prestigious institutions like the University of Hong Kong, Columbia University, the University of Hawaii, the Monterey Institute for International Studies, and many more.



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