Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

Yohan, a North Korean soldier who spent several years in a prisoner-of-war camp, refused to be repatriated after the 1953 Armistice brought the Korean War to an end. So, the United Nations arranged for his passage to a coastal town in Brazil where he lived and worked with a Japanese tailor.   In this foreign town in a distant land with a strange language, the soldier finds a home and kindness from strangers, most particularly his employer, the Japanese tailor, Kiyoshi, a refugee from another war.  In war-torn Korea, Yohan had witnessed a family walking precariously across the snow-covered war ruins of their bombed-out village, filling their pockets, seemingly salvaging something from nothing. These were snow hunters, people struggling to sustain themselves in lives that had been irrevocably changed. In Snow Hunters, Yohan does the same. The situation may be less physically dire, but Yohan’s search for belonging in a very foreign place is also a difficult task which takes patience and resilience. The fact that Yohan’s employer and closest friend is Japanese, a nationality that was long the oppressor of Korea, shows how people can adjust to new circumstances. As Yohan looks back on his early life, the reader discovers that he never had much opportunity for choice. His was a foreordained fate: farmer, orphan, soldier.  Then, as a prisoner of war, at the point in his life when he was most vulnerable, he was offered a choice. He made a most daring decision and his life was changed forever.