by Paul Yoon
Yoon's slim, melancholy debut novel (after a previous celebrated story collection, Once the Shore) explores the somber life of Yohan, a North Korean soldier captured in the south during the Korean War. After the war, Yohan is given ocean passage to Brazil, where he becomes an apprentice to an aging Japanese tailor. Descriptions of Yohan's efforts to learn Brazilian Portuguese and feel present in his new world are interspersed with sometimes-harrowing scenes from the war (where he and his one friend clung desperately to each other), the prison camp, and the Russian occupation of his native country. The small Brazilian port town's rich and turbulent history of Japanese immigrants and wartime defectors drifts vaguely over Yohan (and the reader), with information given by only a handful of people whom Yohan comes to know, including the local church's groundskeeper, Peixe, and two peripatetic children who traveled to Brazil on the same ship as Yohan. Yohan forms his closest bond with the girl, Bia, and watches her grow up. Year to year she enters and exits his life with the seasons. When Bia calls to Yohan in her unique way, readers sympathetic to the trauma of losing one's past and the isolation of displacement will be stirred.
Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC