Million-Selling Novel Eyes Global Market
``Take Care of My Mom,’’ by celebrated author Shin Kyung-sook, which recently set a record by selling one million copies in the shortest period ever, is receiving global attention.
The book was first published by Changbi Publisher in November last year and has created a ``mother syndrome’’ in the local publishing industry, which quickly produced other literary works with a similar theme to capitalize on the popularity.
According to Imprima, a local publishing copyright agency, a growing number of foreign publishers are showing interest in the novel.
Currently, six foreign publishers are seeking to buy overseas publishing rights for the novel. Oh! Editions in France, J. M. Meulenhoff in the Netherlands, and People’s Literature Publishing House in China have already purchased licenses for the work. The agency is currently negotiating contract conditions with Japanese publisher Shueisha.
``Also, publishing companies from Germany, Spain and the United States are offering to make a contract with us. So we are stepping up efforts to promote the novel worldwide ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October,’’ Oh Sun-joo, an official of the agency, told The Korea Times.
She said that the foreign agencies have embraced the book’s theme of motherhood in the same way that Koreans have.
``Some agencies expressed strong emotions. Some said that they shed tears over their mother’s sacrifice after reading just the partial, 50-page translation. The universal message about mothers that is portrayed with the unique Korean emotion might be the primary reason for the interest from the foreign market,’’ she said.
Barbara J. Zitwer, an American literary agent, said that Shin’s book is universal and the story and mystery of the book’s ``mom’’ is the mystery of all moms.
``All of us reading the book around the world cannot but help and think about our mothers, and our friends’ mothers and daughters and families. The author is Korean and the book is very Korean in its intimate and gentle voice but Shin’s voice is, at the same time, so powerful and compelling. The thoughts, characters, ideas and the very fibre of the book are completely universal. This is a book for all readers, especially women, all over the world. The book is gripping, thought provoking and also I think that people around the world are extremely excited to discover a new literary voice. Shin is fresh and unknown now to most of the world ― so the book is a fantastic surprise to us all,’’ said Zitwer.
Jo Kyung-ran’s ``Tongue’’ was published by Bloomsbury in June this year and got a positive review from The New York Times, according to the agency.
Traditional Korean works have been translated into other languages for a long time but it’s not often that currently best-selling books are published in other countries.
In response to the increasing popularity, Shin is planning to meet foreign readers in 10 countries. Also, the novel will be adapted into a stage drama, film and musical next year.
``I never expected one million copies could be sold when I released my novel. Even now, I cannot believe it. I am very happy,’’ Shin said in a recent press conference to mark the one millionth sale of the book.
She attributed the success of the novel to the authenticity of the story and power of the mother’s presence. ``I think many people want to talk about their mother in public. But there have been not many novels that have dealt with the inner and outer aspects of mothers from start to end in this format. It is not the most comfortable story to read but the subject has empowered the novel to easily appeal to readers,’’ she said.
Regarding the popularity of the novel, the author’s promotional activities are one of the key factors in attracting readers. She has met readers around the nation over the last 10 months through lectures, readings and autograph events, which opened a channel of communication between her and her readers.
``Some of my fans came to see me, along with their mothers and some burst into tears when they saw me. Some said they read the book to their mothers who are illiterate. Maybe, if I had heard all of these stories from readers before writing the novel, my story might have been a different one,’’ she said.
The soaring sales of the novel come from a variety of supporters, from women in their 20s and 30s to middle-aged men.
``The story is about how a mother forms relationship with others. It’s not just about the story between mother and daughter, mother and son or mother and father. If you look into the life of mother, other family members’ lives are interconnected and naturally seen,’’ she said.
``Take Care of My Mom’’ revolves around an old mother who lives in a rural area. One day, she travels to Seoul to see her children to celebrate her birthday. But she goes missing in the hustle-and-bustle of the subway station in Seoul.
The mother cannot find her children’s houses due to her Alzheimer’s disease, but her family members aren’t aware of her illness.
The book consists of four sections in which the daughter, son, husband, and finally, the mother take turns being the narrator. In each chapter, the narrators tell their memories and experiences regarding the mother. With her disappearance, they come to realize their indifference to her pain and loneliness. The suspenseful book reveals the intertwined relations among family members through the process of finding the mother.