Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 208 pages
On Amazon, on Kobo

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon is a character driven novel about the effects of not only the Second World War on Yohan’s father, but the Korean War on Yohan himself.  Yohan is a young farm hand who is conscripted into the military during the Korean War and he’s from the North; he’s captured after being nearly blown to smithereens and sent to a POW camp run by Americans.  Although Yohan could be considered brave because he defects, leaving his country behind, he’s also scared to connect with others because of the trauma he’s faced.  This quiet novel is about learning to reconnect with others and to accept the past and move on, while still holding close the memories of those you loved.

“That winter, during a rainfall, he arrived in Brazil.

He came by sea.  On the cargo ship he was their only passenger.  In the last days of the ship’s journey it had grown warm and when he remarked that there was no snow, the crew members laughed.”  (page 1)

Arriving in Brazil on a chance opportunity and knowing no Portuguese, Yohan is apprenticed to a Japanese tailor, Kiyoshi, who has his own war secrets.  What little Japanese Yohan knew is mostly forgotten, but they get by on those few words and gestures, as the young man begins to settle into a new life, mending clothes for the tailor’s customers and eventually learning the streets enough to make deliveries.  Yoon weaves memories into the narrative seamlessly, almost as if Yohan himself is pulled into the past and the present dissolves into the ether.  “It was as though the world he saw cracked, revealing memories he had forgotten.” (page 27)

As Yohan slowly adapts to a new life, he finds quiet solace in the company of youngsters Santi and Bai, who are patient as they sell their homemade bracelets or make small trades for food in the marketplace.  Yoon describes the physical limitations of those around Yohan, including his friend from the POW camp Peng, to reflect the disabled state in which Yohan has come to Brazil, and it is only through his relationship with the church groundskeeper, Peixe, that he comes to realize that limitations are only as limiting as you allow them to become.

Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon may search through the snow in Korea for anything they can forage to eat, but really it is a metaphor for those of us who live life in isolation either by choice, trauma, or necessity, and how as observers of our own lives and that of others, we are always hunting for that elusive connection.  Yohan and others must learn to make the fateful leap — to connect and to brave the uncharted waters.

About the Author:

Paul Yoon was born in New York City. He lives in Massachusetts and is the Roger F. Murray Chair in Creative Writing at Phillips Academy.


12th book (Korean War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





17th book for 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.





27th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.


  1. I have to be in the mood for quiet novels, but this one sounds especially good.

  2. I can’t really imagine what it would be like for anyone surviving something like that. The isolation and the need to reconnect, if only because you know you can’t survive without doing so, seems so overwhelming.

    • This is such a quiet novel given all he faces….and in many ways that struggle is very internal and not on display for the reader, but it is evident in his actions and interactions with others.