14 December 2008

Hunting along the Tumun

Sometimes, an anti-hero can teach us more about goodness than can a straight-up angel. The Ginseng Hunter
by Jeff Talarigo is an excellent profile of an anti-hero. The novel's main character lurches from event to event in his own life with a stubborn refusal to engage with the people around him; he is asocial and proud to be so. He enjoys his solitary existence harvesting ginseng along the Chinese side of the Tumen River and spares as little thought for the people around him as he can get by doing.

As the seasons change and The Hunter continues his steady pursuit of the hard to find Ginseng root, his ability to remain solitary is threatened. Refugees from across the river steal his harvest, interrupt him at his work, and occlude his single mindedness. Soon enough, he ends up intimate with one such refugee, a Scheherazade of a woman and a prostitute who tells him terrible and strange tales of her homeland in North Korea.

The Hunter's moral path is not instantly cleared for him; as with many people in real life, he acts in ways both reprehensible and laudatory. I did not find it easy to predict why in one case he acted nobly and another in a Hobbesian fashion; nor were his motives entirely explained. Still, the tale is satisfying in that the reader realizes that The Hunter does not completely understand his motives either.

In the conclusion, the book is sad and poignant; and the story of the refugees presented in the book is pitiful. I recommend this book, but don't expect moral redemption from it; instead it provides an accurate portrayal of a person thrust into heroic situations unprepared for them.

Scheherazade illustration by freeparking.

The situation in North Korea is terrible when it comes to human rights. I encourage readers to educate themselves, and consider supporting an organization that supports the cessation of human rights abuses in North Korea, such as Amnesty International.


Carma Sez said...

sounds intriguing -- but not too cheerful :)