Today I needed to write a paragraph on a book I’d recently read and it reminded me how long it’s been since I last updated this blog.
I thought I would use what I wrote here. I’ve bought many graphic novels in the last year, and been gifted a few. Moms by Ma Yeong-shin is one of them, and one of the few I’ve managed to get around to reading.
Everyone who knows me well knows that I watch Korean dramas and listen to Korean pop music. I also like Korean films, not so much the commercial blockbusters, but the low-budget indie type by directors like Hong Sang-soo.
I’ve also been exploring Korean graphic novels. Hong Yeon-sik’s Uncomfortably Happily and Umma’s Table are two that have the feel of the K-dramas that I like best, the ones that aren’t about beautiful young women falling in love with even more beautiful young men, but about human connections and people trying live their best lives. Ma Yeong-shin’s Moms, on the other hand, is like a gritty, rather grim Hong Sang-soo film.
The book focuses on three women in their fifties, particularly Lee Soyeon, a divorcee who works as a janitor and lives with her adult son. This is not a sentimental portrayal of Korean mothers who struggle to support their children through life’s ups and downs, but a gritty, realistic and, at times, hysterically funny depiction of the lives of middle-aged women who feel marginalised due to their age, as well as their marital and financial status.
These women crave romance, affection, and sex, and are aggressive about claiming all three, often to their detriment. These women’s lives are shown to border on meaningless, containing little joy and comfort and overflowing with regret and bitterness. Even the way they are drawn is ruthlessly unromanticised. Their smiles never look happy, but have a feral quality or else are heavily cynical. These women look like some of the aunties, complete with wrinkles and sagging breasts, whom you might see at your neighbourhood grocery store. I appreciated the frank portrayal of these women, being middle-aged myself (wrinkles, sagging breasts, spare tyre and extra kgs all present).
Would a teenager reading this story be shocked and/or disbelieving? Sadly, kids, emotions and desires persist despite the loss of looks and the onset of menopause. And no one cares.
One thought on “Moms by Ma Yeong-shin”
What you describe and show by way of illustration feels like a mirror held up to the kind of life that, as you say, may well be a mystery to youngsters who live in their own world of teen angst with hopes of fairytale romance. I do like a bit of this everyday realism injected into graphic novels.