Go Away With … Kyung-sook Shin

Photo credit: Lee Byungryul

Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
May 3, 2011

With multiple best-selling books under the belt, Kyung-sook Shin has rock star status in her native South Korea. Now the 48-year-old author is ready to enter the international market with her latest book, “Please Look After Mom” (Knopf, $24.95). The touching novel — about a family that doesn’t appreciate their mother until after she has mysteriously disappeared — sold more than a million copies in Korea. It has since been released in more than 20 countries and debuted May 1 at number 14 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York, Shin spoke about some of her favorite destinations with some assistance from her translator, Jae Won Chung.

Q. Have you traveled to any places that were so inspirational that you had to write about them?

A. The setting of my novel “Rijin” was Paris and Seoul a 100 years ago. I ended up going to Paris several times to do some research. All the foreign locales that appear in my novel are places I’ve traveled to. In some cases, I traveled so I could write about those places. In other cases, I’d just go to a place and be inspired to write about it. The Vatican, in “Please Look After Mom” is a latter example. When I saw La Pieta for the first time after only having seen photographic reproductions till then, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I could feel the statue making its way into my book.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A. When I’m in Korea I sometimes go away on weekends to Gangwon Province or Jeju Island. I grew up inland in Korea. Seoul also happens to be inland. So if I want to go somewhere unfamiliar, I always choose to go where the ocean is. You can see the water from Gangwon Province and Jeju Island.

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of back home?

A. There’s a temple in Korea called Pusoksa. I went there one year, on January 1, and I really enjoyed it. Once I came back from there, I wrote a story immediately after. I titled it “Pusoksa,” too. After that, I’ve made sure to revisit it every once in a while.

Q. Where, outside of Korea, have you eaten the best Korean food?

A. New York. There are a ton of Korean restaurants in New York and some of the Korean food there is even better than what you can find back home.

Q. What are some of your favorite cities?

A. Tuscany, Italy; Paris and Cusco, Peru.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. Greece and India.

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?

A. Venice. It is a city of water, and that alone provoked my imagination. I’d walk around at night and find beauty in the moonlight on the water. One alleyway led to another so that you could just keep walking and walking.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A. A laptop, a few books, a notebook and a fountain pen — so I can read and write whenever I need to.

Q. What is your guilty pleasure on the road?

A. Spending time in the new landscape, among new people I’ve met, forgetting all the people I’ve left back home.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. I usually don’t plan much. I try to take things as they come. I do try to figure out how long the flight is and where the hotel is located — things like that. I usually prefer hotels that are located in town. So even within a short span of time I can get a sense of how people live there.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?

A. My time in New York has been the best vacation ever. The worst was two years ago, when I went to Moscow in the middle of December. It was so cold that I didn’t dare to leave the hotel.

© 2011 JAE-HA KIM


Hey all, Shin’s publishing house, Knopf, has provided me with a copy of her book to giveaway. For more details, click HERE. Contest ends on May 8, 2011. Good luck!



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