Tough Translation

Knopf not only has a strong literary reputation, it is also known for bringing works in translation into the U.S.; a tradition that paid off spectacularly with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series.

But reviewers are perplexed by Kyung-Sook Shin’s  Please Look After Mom, a book that has sold over a million copies in South Korea. On NPR’s Fresh Air last night, Maureen Corrigan said straight out, “I’m mystified as to why this guilt-laden morality tale has become such a sensation in Korea and why a literary house like Knopf would embrace it.” Reading the book made her fell like she “was stranded in a Korean soap opera decked out as serious literary fiction.”

Janet Maslin, in the daily NYT last week, detailed some of the book’s “Dickensian extremes,” rendering the plot twists laughable. Sister publication, the NYT Book Review, described the book more positively, calling it a “…raw tribute to the mysteries of motherhood,” but still didn’t communicate much enthusiasm for it.

Prepub reviews were much stronger. Library Journal said it “should be one of this year’s most-deserving best sellers.”

Libraries we checked are showing 4:1 hold ratios on light ordering.

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