Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon's first novel, comes out today from Simon & Schuster, and it's pretty perfect. It's a late summer release that's getting buzz for a reason — Yoon's short, delicate sentences reveal the isolated life of a North Korean captured by Americans in the Korean War who tries to start anew after he's released.
Yohan is the POW, and he moves to Brazil after the war to work for a Japanese tailor, Kiyoshi. Yoon, who graduated from Wesleyan in 2002, mused on Tumblr that Yohan's story is a natural progression from his acclaimed story collection Once the Shore, which was released in 2009: "If my story collection was a kind of beginning — a jumping off point — then for my next project I was in search of a place to go from there, literally. Another destination. I chose Brazil. And so Snow Hunters can be viewed as a kind of bridge that connects two very different places."
In Brazil, Yohan attempts to leave his war experiences in the past. He eventually learns Portuguese and connects with the other people in town — Kiyoshi, and Peixe, a groundskeeper at the local church, and Bia and Santi, two orphaned homeless kids. He doesn't find love, necessarily, but quiet comfort. Here, Yoon describes the way in which Yohan and Kiyoshi come to know each other:
Though they were together often, [Kiyoshi] shared little with Yohan. And he himself did not tell the tailor about his own years. And yet he found comfort in this absence of telling. He learned about the tailor by what the old man pointed to, what his eyes fell on; by what he ate and how; by his knowledge of fabrics and by the way he avoided certain pedestrians and grinned at others. From their reticence grew a kind of intimacy.
Yoon not only illustrates intimacy on the page, but creates it between the reader and Yohan. By the end of Yoon's relatively brief novel, Yohan becomes real — a character you won't soon forget.
Snow Hunters is available today, August 6, from Simon & Schuster.