by Paul Yoon
Simon & Schuster, 2013. 194 pgs. Fiction
Snow Hunters has appeared on several Best Books of the Month list, and it is beautifully well written, tender, and memorable. It is also so melancholy you may want to fall face down into a pan of brownies right after you've read it. Yohan, a prisoner of war after the Korean"conflict," elects to go to Brazil rather than be repatriated to the North. U.N. workers help him find passage and arrange work for him with a Japanese tailor, also an exile. Kiyoshi is a good man, kind and patient. As he goes about his work, Yohan meets a few others--Peixe, the gardener at a nearby church, and two street children, Santi, a young boy, and Bia, an older girl. Yohan feels drawn to become closer to these people, his friends, but is constrained by the horrors of his past--parents dead before he was sixteen, his conscription into the North Korean army, horror upon horror after that, including the blinding and then the loss of his only friend. Snow Hunters is richly redolent of the beauty of the Brazilian coastline, of the gentle kindness of good people, and when Yohan is finally able ask someone to stay with him, and perhaps to love him, the novel finds its lovely conclusion. If you have ever wished everyone would just leave you alone, this book is a cautionary tale. No one would want to be as alone as Yohan is for way too long.