Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Snow Hunters

Snow Hunters
Paul Yoon

Sitting in a noisy cafe with my notebook open, I think about silence in Paul Yoon's book Snow Hunters and am amazed at how he does it. Here I am in a dizzying mix of hissing, droning, gurgling sound that defiantly opposes silence, yet somehow within this space, I am able to sustain a feeling of silence after finishing Snow Hunters yesterday. Wow! That's something. Yoon not only explores how silence develops intimacy and meaning in our lives, he offers it to us; silence, with its spiritual understanding intact, lifts from these pages to create an aura around you, which to my mind marks this book as a valuable reading experience.

Yoon's protagonist is Yohan, a North Korean POW who refuses repatriation after the Korean War. He stays in the American war camp for almost a year, helping the medics, mending clothes, until he is given the opportunity to emigrate to Brazil, where a job awaits him. Yohan accepts the offer and makes the journey to a new land  to become an apprentice to a Japanese tailor named Kiyoshi. Equipped with a few Portuguese words he learns from the South Korean sailors on board ship, Yohan lands in Brazil as a foreigner.

In spite of Yohan’s memories of war—especially his friendship with Peng, who was blinded in a landmine explosion that led to their capture and years-long detention in the POW Camp—and his emotional ties to another homeland, another life, that claims much of his mind and heart, Yohan tries to open up to his new life. The simplicity of his life with Kiyoshi, his brief conversations with one of the sailors who bring cargo to Brazil, and Yohan's sporadic encounters with Santi, a small boy, and Bia, a mysterious young girl, combine to weaken the hold of his past and to strengthen his desire for a new life in his new land. A gentle kind of magic permeates this story, and its subtle light shows us the beauty of a simple life.

- Morvern McNie

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