Since 2004, I’ve read 250 new books. About 3 every year make it onto my list of favorites. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that The Ginseng Hunter has aquired a coveted spot on that list.
Talarigo has exceptional skill as a writer, and his subject matter is fascinating. The Ginseng Hunter is set on the China-North Korea border, and although the narrator describes scenes from his childhood during the days of Mao, most of it is present-day – like now. Talarigo spoke with North Koreans who had escaped into China and, presumably, from there to the US. Or someplace more welcoming.
In addition to chapters narrated by the main character, others are told in third-person but follow a North Korean mother and her daughter, who are trying to survive the harsh conditions there. They were heartbreaking, though in print it was easier to swallow than in film (please watch Seoul Train). It was interesting to see how different lives crossed paths or collided, and how our choices about our behavior to others may mean more to us than to the people with whom we interact.
I also was intrigued by the complexity of the main character, although as I reflected on it, he is actually a good example of how complex we all are. Yes, he is a ginseng hunter, and that defines a huge part of his existence – but there were so many other aspects…his decisions not only gave insight into his character but created his character, the way our choices shape us.
Tweet: Strongly recommended and highly praised: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo. Experience life and death on the China-North Korea border.