Paul Yoon’s new novel about a North Korean war veteran allows him to connect with an intimate family history.
By ADA TSENG
While researching Korean history for his first short story collection, 2009’s critically-acclaimed Once The Shore, Paul Yoon read that after the Korean War ended in 1953, there were North Korean prisoners of war in South Korea who, rather than return north to their home country, opted to defect to South America.
“It felt like such an odd fact that was just glossed over,” remembers Yoon. “So it piqued my curiosity, and I became obsessed with this notion that a group of prisoners would choose to travel to the other side of the world.”
This detail of history would become the inspiration for Yoon’s latest book, Snow Hunters, a novel released this month by Simon & Schuster. The first chapter follows 25-year-old Yohan, a North Korean veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, as he first arrives in Brazil, a country he had never heard of prior to this journey. He’s come to live and apprentice with Kiyoshi, an old Japanese tailor who lives in a small port town. Mending clothes is a trade Yohan had learned at the POW camp in South Korea, a skill that would support his new life abroad.
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