Although culturally specific to eastern ways of life, this poignant story of maternal self sacrifice has a universal message. The setting is South Korea, a country in transition from the old ancestral ways to modern city living, where members of a family, in anguish over the disappearance of their mother, are shamed into a soul-searching re-examination of their neglectful behaviour towards her. Make sure you have a box of tissues handy!
When Mother sank into sorrow after your brothers left, the only things you could do for her were to read your brothers' letters out loud, and to slip her responses into the postbox on the way to school. Even then, you had no idea that she had never once set foot in the world of letters. Why did it never occur to you that Mother didn't know how to read or write, even when she relied on you as a child, even after you read her the letters and wrote replies for her? You took her request as just another chore, similar to heading out to the garden to pick some mallow or going to buy some paraffin.