I picked up Paul Yoon's Snow Hunters on a day that was blanketed in white. As I headed to the bookstore, my feet crunched their imprints into the ground, and all I could think about was curling up under my favorite blanket with a new book. Browsing the shelves at Open Books, I was drawn to this minuscule title, its blazing cover offset by embossed type and the small silhouette of a man with an umbrella and a bicycle. Upon reading the title, I knew I must take it home. The weather induced my impulse purchase.
Upon settling in with the title later that night, I was taken aback by the advanced praise displayed on the inner book jacket flap. Such blurbs, I find, are usually worth ignoring, but "Prose so pristine it feels supernatural," from Publishers Weekly catches one's eye as, I suppose, is intended. Thus, I began the book ready to be swept away and was very pleased to find that happening.
The short novel — which was originally some 500 pages — traces the life of Yohan, a former North Korean prisoner of war who resettles on the Brazilian coast as the apprentice of a local Japanese tailor thanks to a United Nations deal to extradite him. The narrative drifts between past — exploring Yohan's loss of family, his experience in a prisoner camp, his relationship with a childhood-friend-turned-fellow-soldier — and present — his attempts to build a new life in Brazil, thousands of miles away from a traumatic history whose freshness distance cannot dampen.
Snow Hunters is a story of love, and particularly of friendship. Yohan's life transitions from expected to surprising to brand new, and in each phase, he is blessed with companionship and returns with loyalty. Through the various relationships he quietly nurtures — his friend in the prisoner camp, the tailor, the Brazilian groundskeeper of the local church and the two vagrant children who drift in and out of town — he searches for, and perhaps even ultimately finds, ways to overcome to trauma of his past.
The prose, as suggested by the quote above, is beautiful in its minimalism and, while holding nothing back, manages to keep the reader at arm's length. There is no barging into Yohan's life — there is simply observing, as one would a memory, his patient quest to rebuild.
As I read Snow Hunters, I realized it was best enjoyed slowly. The prose itself was gentle and elegant, encapsulating Yohan's small but increasingly enriched life. Poached eggs, similarly, require a soft touch, patience and appreciation. For first-timers — like me — they can be difficult to perfect, and are all the more valued for it.
- 1 egg
- black pepper
In a medium pot, heat a few inches of water to just before the boiling point. When the bottom of the pot is covered in small bubbles, hold the heat steady.
Crack an egg into a small bowl or 1-cup measuring cup. Hold the vessel just above the surface of the water and gently slide the egg in. Do not disturb the water, but gently use a slotted spoon to fold the egg whites over the yolk, if necessary. Allow to cook for approximately four minutes, or until the egg gently jiggles when touched with a spoon.
Remove egg with a slotted spoon and drain on a folded paper towel. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, and serve on buttered toast.
Note: After several tries with methods involving swirling the water and adding vinegar, I found this technique to work best for me. You may have to try a few times before getting a perfect poached egg.