Snow Hunters: A Novel by Paul Yoon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 194 pp)

Paul Yoon was born in New York City. His first book was the story collection Once the Shore. It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book, a Best Debut Fiction by National Public Radio, and won the Asian American Literary Award and the 5 under 35 award from the National Book Foundation.

From Grey to Color

After receiving this rather slim novel by Paul Yoon, I’m in awe. Yoon manages to do in just a few pages what some authors struggle to do in hundreds, if not thousands. Snow Hunters uses sparse and carefully crafted prose in addition to a powerful main character to give the story great impact. Tracing years of the main character’s life, the book is nothing if not a quick read.

The reader first meets Snow Hunter’s main character, Yohan, as he emigrates from Korea to a small port town in Brazil. He arrives after being put through hell, surviving a POW camp during the Korean war. Brazil seems a stark contrast to the dark, placid tones of the camp, and the colorful culture and surroundings begin to transform Yohan.

“The town was large, almost a city, and opened out along the rise of the hill. As he moved farther into the town he felt its density, its height. He kept looking up at the unfamiliar architecture, the designs of gates and entrances, the high floors. Building were the color of seashells” (7).

Random Acts of Kindness

Yohan’s life is marked by strangers and their random acts of kindness. The suit that he arrives in is “not his own”, and a sailor hands him a blue umbrella as he departs the ship towards the rain spotted port city. A Japanese sailor, Kiyoshi, even provides the man with room and board.

We learn through flashbacks (a popular literary tool as of late) that Yohan was captured to do an exploded ordinance. He and a fellow soldier were found caked in snow, and taken to a POW camp. They were called “snowmen”, hence the name of the novel. We learn that he was somewhat of a tailor in the POW camp, and as a result, he helps Kiyoshi the town tailor in his trade.

“Kiyoshi gave him fabric to practice on. He spent those first days adjusting his body to that foreign rhythm, his foot in constant motion as his hands pushed the cloth forward. On occasion Kiyoshi stood behind him peering over his shoulder, though Yohan did not look up” (22).

Ordinary Moments are Miraculous Moments

As Yohan leads a solitary, meek existence, he meets some wonderful friends: Piexe, the groundskeeper of a church, and Bia and Santi, two children that leap in and out of the story as Yohan watches them grow into adulthood. If nothing else, the book is about the fleeting passage of time. We see Yohan transform from a prisoner of war to a treasured part of the small village.

“In this way the days passed. Those days became years, Those years a life” (168).

Since Snow Hunters ‘ pace is observant, every single word is meaningful and thought out. Ordinary moments like an umbrella given by a stranger, a bike ride, or sewing with a machine are made to seem like gracefully crafted moments of pure bliss.

We learn of the austere man Yohan, who tries to live a solitary life, but finds that he needs people like Piexe, Kiyoshi, Bia, and Santi to be true companions in life. Author Paul Yoon manages to tell us that the ordinary moments in life are the ones that matter, that those put into our lives are there to fill our empty spaces. Each moment, no matter how mundane is a moment to cherish in absolute awe. I’m amazed that Snow Hunters accomplishes such a meaningful message in such a short space.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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