Monthly Archives: December 2013

Snow Hunters, by Paul Yoon


Snow Hunters

By Paul Yoon

Simon & Schuster, 2013

198 pages

This is a short, dreamlike debut novel about a North Korean man who makes a life in Brazil in the 1950s.

Yohan, a North Korean man, is captured during the Korean War and spends a few years in a prisoner camp. In 1954, when the war ends, and he is 25, he is offered repatriation, but instead he chooses to travel on a cargo ship to Brazil, where the UN has arranged a job for him with a Japanese tailor. Unable to speak a world of Portuguese, Yohan finds his way in this new world, with the help of: Kiyoshi, the tailor; two orphan kids; and Peixe, a church groundskeeper. The book narrates the story of Yohan’s life in Brazil, and his life in Korea, with the Korean story being told backwards, from his time in the South Korean prison camp, to his early years growing up on a farm.

Yoon’s prose is poetic and moving, and his writing is sparse. His style reminds me of Michael Ondaatje’s early works. I was immediately drawn in to this book and was moved by the story of a man finding a home in a new world, where he is both connected and disconnected, and where the ordinary takes on a new weight. This is a story of displacement and loss; the action in the book is both subtle and monumental, as Yohan leaves his culture behind and eventually finds solace in his new life in Brazil.

Yoon has also written a short story collection. I deem him a writer to watch. You can preview the book online.

I bought this book at a local Brooklyn bookstore.

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Top debuts of 2013….

So the end of year lists are out…I like perusing the lists to see the range of books called “best,” and to find titles I had not read about yet this year.

Flavorwire has a list devoted to best debut novels, and it includes more experimental, off the beaten path, books. Two I noted, and have been recommended to me by friends, are:

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, by Matt Bell. A mystical, slightly experimental, novel about a couple who move to a house on a lake where they hope to raise a family, but things do not unfold as planned. The book has been noted for its moving prose and memorable language.

Elect H. Mouse State Judge, by Nelly Reifler. With mice as the main characters this book is meant to be genre-bending noir, where two girls are kidnapped and rescued by doll private detectives. At a mere 112 pages it is described as a quick and kooky read.

Over at The Daily Beast, Adelle Waldman’s, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. gets acknowledged as best debut of the year. This book explores the psyche of a modern urban male, living in New York, who has to make a choice between a handful of women he is dating. It can be found on quite a few “best of” lists.

The Wall Street Journal’s “Best Fiction of 2013” list features six debuts out of its ten picks!  They featured some books that have been widely written about like, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, and Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi, but Bogotá, by Alan Grostephan, a novel about family who migrates into the slums of Bogota, and Wash, by Margaret Wrinkle, a novel about slave breeding, are less well-known picks.

And in the memoir category, Jesmyn Ward’s, Men We Reaped, got mention on New York Magazine’s “10 Best” list. This book tells the story of five African-American men, including the author’s brother, who died in the early naughts in the Mississippi town Ward is from.

I hope you all find something to read over the new year, whether you’re picking up a new author or returning to one you love.





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Lies You Wanted to Hear, by James Whitfield Thomson


Lies You Wanted to Hear

By James Whitfield Thomson

Sourcebooks Landmark, 2013

416 pages

This is the most suspenseful love story I have ever read!

In the late 1970s, in Boston, Lucy and Matt are set up by a mutual friend. Lucy is trying to get over Griffin, a man unable to commit, and Matt is just willing to go on a date. Although they come from different backgrounds, Matt is a cop who grew up in small town Pennsylvania, and Lucy is a recent college grad with an admin job at Harvard, who comes from a wealthy Connecticut family, they fall in love, and eventually marry after Lucy gets pregnant. But their love is never equal and this creates complications. Told in alternating chapters the book explores both sides of their love story and the pain of having children with someone who does not turn out to be the partner you wished they would become.

The book opens with Lucy in the 1990s, and she is living alone, establishing in the first pages that Lucy and Matt’s marriage ends. Thomson builds suspense around the how and why, skillfully twisting and turning the story, until he lands on what I found to be a satisfying and realistic note. This is a family drama—a story of love and betrayal. And because the book is set up to explore how their love ends, the story is infused with suspense not often found in love stories.

Thomson lives in Boston with his family. He is publishing this debut in his 60s–another example that there is room for older debut novelists–and did not publish his first short story until he was forty.

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.





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