Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo

A little over two months ago I read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, which described the lives of six North Koreans who defected in the 1990s or early 2000s. Each had to cross the highly guarded Tumen River north into China to go the long way to South Korea. They found no safety in China which allows North Korean agents to seek and arrest fugitives. Now, I have found a novel that is a perfect companion to nonfiction book. The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo is the story about a Chinese man who seeks ginseng in the forests north of the Tumen River and a young North Korean fugitive with whom he falls in love. She swims across the polluted river into the seemingly safe hands of farmers who hide her from Korean soldiers. They then sell her into prostitution. The ginseng hunter meets her on his monthly trip to sell the valuable root in Yanji, a small city near the border between the two Communist countries. At each of their monthly meetings, she describes her past in North Korea.

I chose the book because I liked the cover and wanted a small book to take on vacation. It proved to be a great read, as Talarigo wastes no words in telling a riveting story that illustrates the troubles in two Asian countries. It is widely available in public libraries.

Talarigo, Jeff. The Ginseng Hunter. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2008. ISBN 9780385517393

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