"Snow Hunters" traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, who defects from his country at the end of the Korean War, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life on the coast of Brazil. Read more...
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"Snow Hunters" traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, who defects from his country at the end of the Korean War, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life on the coast of Brazil. Throughout his years there, four people slip in and out of his life: Kiyoshi, the Japanese tailor for whom he works; Peixe, the groundskeeper at the town church; and two vagrant children named Santi and Bia. Yohan longs to connect with these people, but to do so he must let go of his traumatic past.
In "Snow Hunters," Yoon proves that love can dissolve loneliness, that hope can wash away despair, and that a man who has lost a country can find a new home. This is a heartrending story of second chances, told with unerring elegance and tenderness.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Yoon’s slim, melancholy debut novel (after a previous celebrated story collection, Once the Shore) explores the somber life of Yohan, a North Korean soldier captured in the south during the Korean War. After the war, Yohan is given ocean passage to Brazil, where he becomes an apprentice to an aging Japanese tailor. Descriptions of Yohan’s efforts to learn Brazilian Portuguese and feel present in his new world are interspersed with sometimes-harrowing scenes from the war (where he and his one friend clung desperately to each other), the prison camp, and the Russian occupation of his native country. The small Brazilian port town’s rich and turbulent history of Japanese immigrants and wartime defectors drifts vaguely over Yohan (and the reader), with information given by only a handful of people whom Yohan comes to know, including the local church’s groundskeeper, Peixe, and two peripatetic children who traveled to Brazil on the same ship as Yohan. Yohan forms his closest bond with the girl, Bia, and watches her grow up. Year to year she enters and exits his life with the seasons. When Bia calls to Yohan in her unique way, readers sympathetic to the trauma of losing one’s past and the isolation of displacement will be stirred. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Aug.)
In search of a home after war
Paul Yoon’s 2009 story collection, Once the Shore, won numerous accolades, including being named Best Book of the Year by the L.A. Times and Publishers Weekly. Expectations were high for his debut novel—and with Snow Hunters, he has fulfilled them.
The plot of Snow Hunters is a spare one; it follows the journey of Yohan, a young North Korean and former prisoner of war who, after the Korean War’s conclusion, decides not to return to the North, but travels instead on a cargo ship to Brazil, where the U.N. has forged an agreement to allow former prisoners of war to emigrate. Yohan is apprenticed to an elderly Japanese tailor, Kiyoshi, who lives in a mostly Japanese community in an unnamed town on Brazil’s coast. The author skillfully weaves together scenes from Yohan’s youth and his years as a soldier and POW with those from the present, as his relationship with Kiyoshi strengthens.
Yohan’s mother died at his birth, and he was raised by his father, “a solitary man” whom he never knew well. He was 16 when his father died, and as he looks back, he realizes his parents were simply “a blank space in his life that he was unable to paint.” From Kiyoshi he learns not only tailoring skills, but also how to care for, and about, those who are now part of his life.
In the quietly resonant descriptions of his characters—Yohan, Kiyoshi and two local beggar children named Bia and Santi—Yoon paints an eloquent picture of the changes taking place in Yohan’s life as he gradually moves from the ravages of war to a contemplative and isolated existence occasionally sprinkled with moments of joy.
For readers who enjoyed A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee or Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Snow Hunters is an introspective and moving novel to savor.