The second book I finished this week was Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon, a novel about a young Korean man named Yohan and his life in Brazil after the end of the Korean War.
Yoon uses beautifully simple prose. He writes so delicately about human relationships that I was brought close to tears several times. Yoon’s style is reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of my Melancholy Whores. There is the same dream-like quality, but without the magical realism.
Granted, Yoon has a way of making the real magical. I particularly liked this excerpt.
–What stars, he said, and laughed, gazing up at that vast canvas above them, Yohan astonished by how it was possible that it was the same sky through all their years, in countries across the sea. How the sky never changed, never appeared to grow old. (Yoon, 2013, p.90)
At first, it seems like the same trite phrase about the stars that everyone writes, until the comment about oldness. It was then that I realized the excerpt was never about the stars, but the feelings Yohan has about his friend and mentor while he looks at them. We can understand the way he misses people (and will miss people) while he looks at stars.
In addition, I enjoyed Yoon’s commentary on love throughout the book.
But he had never known him, had never been close to him in the way he witnessed other sons and their fathers.
Perhaps it would have been different if his mother had lived. Perhaps his father had been someone else and a wife’s death had altered him.
Or perhaps his solitude was always there. He would often wonder about that. (Yoon, 2013, p.140)
On the surface, this is a straightforward description of Yohan’s father. However, the sentence at the end asks several questions of the reader. How much do we really know about the people we are close to? Even our own parents had lived lives unknowable to us before we were born. How much of people’s behavior is truly their own nature, and how much of it is done in reaction to being observed or as a product of experience? Yet, Yohan still believes in the love his father gave him. There is a duality there that is revealing of human nature: that doubt is a natural part of love.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s something I recommend for gloomy days, or perhaps gloomy times like these when nativists are looking for reasons to throw immigrants out of countries. It only took me a day to read, and there’s something about Snow Hunters that just lowers my blood pressure. It was a welcome respite from the chaos of modern living.
Yoon, P. (2013). Snow Hunters. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.