Twentieth-century North Korea and Brazil. The protagonist of this much-lauded short novel is a young man in his middle twenties called Yohan. A North Korean POW refugee who defects from his country in the early 1950s, Yohan finds a new life in a small town on the Brazilian coast, where he is employed as a Japanese tailor’s apprentice. Over the years, four people slip in and out of Yohan’s life: the tailor, Kiyoshi; the groundskeeper of the town church; and two vagrant children, a boy, Santi, and a girl, Bia. All the while, Yohan suffers from memories of Korea and his best friend, Peng, a childhood friend he meets later as a fellow soldier, and whom he loses to the war.
Snow Hunters is a quiet story of loss, despair, solitude and, eventually, hope in the face of grief and sorrow. It is a lovely novella, an elegantly – I would even say, beautifully – written snapshot of one man’s life developed through the repetition of interwoven memories and haunting images. It has received across the board stellar reviews and is the winner of the 2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. For all this, while the lyrical language pulled me though the story, in the end, I did not feel connected to it and found it overall oddly lacking in emotion.