The Ginseng Hunter

The Ginseng Hunter

Book - 2008
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Set at the turn of the twenty-first century in China along the Tumen River, which separates northeast China and North Korea, The Ginseng Hunter follows the daily life of a Chinese ginseng hunter, who lives alone in the valley, spending his days up in the mountains looking for ginseng and preparing for winter. He is little aware of the world outside until shadowy figures hiding in the fields, bodies floating in the river, and rumors of thievery and murder begin to intrude on his cherished solitude. On one of his monthly trips to Yanji where he buys supplies and visits a brothel, he meets a young North Korean prostitute. Through her vivid tales, the tragedy occurring across the river unfolds, and over the course of the year the hunter unnervingly discovers that the fate of the young woman and those of four others rest in his hands. Taking readers intimately into the little understood lives of North Koreans, The Ginseng Hunter is a mesmerizing portrait of life along a fragile border.
Publisher: New York : Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2008.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385517393
Branch Call Number: TALARIGO
Characteristics: 177 pages : map ; 20 cm.


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Sep 18, 2016

An unnamed ginseng hunter of North Korean extraction, whose ancestors moved to China, lives a solitary life close to nature in beautiful mountains at the turn of the 21st c. His story moves from his childhood, when "Mao's first mistake," forcing people to kill all the sparrows, begins a famine which has drastic repercussions, including for his own family. For generations, they have hunted ginseng, a difficult but simple, rhythmic life that he loves. Eventually, starving North Korean refugees bring soldiers in their wake, and with Chinese soldiers clamping down, he must decide what to do. This short book is not easy reading, but puts the headlines about North Korea in more human perspective.

Jul 10, 2016

This powerful little book moves quietly and slowly, as the Chinese man goes about his life looking for ginseng, respecting his father's family traditions of allowing the plants to grow for several years before harvesting one root a day. He lives on the Tumen river which borders North Korea and China and speaks both languages. His life is uneventful until, little by little, he becomes aware of North Korean refugees who risk everything to escape the starvation and political hell of their country. He attempts to remain uninvolved, and can hardly believe the horror stories he keeps hearing about North Korea, but because his little farm and house are right at the water's edge, he is visible from the other side of the river. Events eventually make it impossible for him to ignore the desperation of the escapees, and he has to decide what he will do.
The story pulls the reader in. Though he writes it as fiction, several recent biographies (e.g. In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park, and The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee)
of people who have escaped from North Korea make it ring very true.

Oct 14, 2015

This is a beautiful and bittersweet story where a simple farmer and ginseng hunter comes face-face with the brutality and absurdity of North Korea. A simple farmer tries to reach out to those who have been brutalized and starved by North Korean practices. The results are sad.

Dec 13, 2014

This was a very fascinating little book. I would recommend it to many others.


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