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The Ginseng Hunter

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  564 ratings  ·  126 reviews
A Chinese ginseng hunter lives alone in the valley, where he spends his days preparing for winter. He is scarcely aware of the larger world until shadowy figures, floating bodies, and rumors of murder begin to intrude on his cherished solitude. Then, on a trip to Yanji, he meets a young North Korean prostitute. Through her vivid tales, the tragedy occurring across the rive ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Nan A. Talese (first published January 1st 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,061)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 3* of five

The Book Report: A short, poetic novel of the Cultural Revolution era as seen from the viewpoint of a man whose life has been defined by following his family's tradition of gathering ginseng root in the wild. He narrates for us the events of that uneventful life, with a wistful, elegiac tone. The book illuminates a life and a folkway that this half-Korean, half-Chinese man is so deeply enmeshed into that the metaphors he uses in his head to explain the world to himself are all
...more
Warren
Jan 06, 2009 Warren marked it as to-read
Shelves: book-list-2009
Starred Review. Novelists who compose stories involving a culture different from their own normally bring to mind the expression "scratching an itch from outside one's boot." Such is not the case with Talarigo (The Pearl Diver), who convincingly tells of a ginseng hunter plying his trade in a border town between China and North Korea. The novel moves from an idyllic to an emotional level as this North Korean loner who emigrated to China refuses to help an illegal alien working as a prostitute an ...more
Candice
A short book with lots to offer. Set in China, just across the border from North Korea, the main character is, like his father and grandfather before him, a ginseng hunter. The descriptions of the search for ginseng in the forests, and the way it is harvested are both interesting and enlightening. In his lonely existence, the ginseng hunter often travels to the nearest city where he becomes friendly with a North Korean prostitute. Soon her story and that of her daughter are revealed. There is a ...more
Taryn Rydell
This is a story about life in China near the border river of Tumen. This is a sad, hard story about a middle-aged man simply known as the Ginseng Hunter who, you guessed it, hunts the ginseng plant. He performs this occupation in the spring and summer, just to survive vicious winters. But truth be told, that’s not what the story is about. It is about life as I said before, but at the heart it is a love story full of heartache, pain, loss, murder, betrayal, starvation, and poverty.

I’m giving it f
...more
Jason
I was very thrilled to see Jeff Talarigo s second novel The Ginseng Hunter come into the store. His first novel, The Pearl Diver was a wonderful discovery. It reminded me of Michael Ondaatje s novels with its fluid time-schemes, vivid, poetic descriptions, and rich characterizations. So, I snatched up The Ginseng Hunter with a great deal of excitement. It did not let me down.[return]The unnamed main character of The Ginseng Hunter lives alone on a small farm close to the Chinese and North Korean ...more
Rick Skwiot


Jeff Talarigo’s haunting 2008 novel The Ginseng Hunter (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) puts a face on hunger and the human effects of totalitarian rule, oppression and ill-wrought central planning.

Set in the mountains where China, North Korea and Russia meet, it’s peopled by Chinese, Chinese-Koreans—such as the ginseng hunter—and North Koreans who slip or bribe their way across the armed border to barter or escape the regime of their Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.

The novel effectively places the reader in
...more
J.M. Cornwell
Communism and tyranny from both sides of the river.

The turn of the seasons governs a ginseng hunter’s life. From spring to late autumn, he must gather enough carefully unearthed roots to buy what he cannot grow in order to survive the winter. Each spring, he must begin again.

This year, on the eve of the twenty-first century, the hunter’s life changes. On his monthly visit to the brothel in town, he meets a North Korean woman whose haunted chestnut brown eyes slide away from his with fear and d
...more
Patty
Jeff Talarigo also wrote "ThePearl Diver". His knowlege and understanding of the culture of the Asian people is so interesting.

I know that right now, this winter as I sit comfortably in my home with the heat turned up to 68 that some people are starving and freezing and being killed. Revolution is in the air. But it seems far away and doesn't affect me. The disparity of the rich and poor is growning even in our country but will it reach the proportions that it has in other countries? Would we l
...more
Jenny
A powerful story about the cruelty of authoritarian regimes. The corruption of power misused brings misery as the human body and soul struggles to survive. No-one escapes from the consequences - the victims, the enforcers and those that observe from a distance - everyone is reduced by the power of corruption. Ginseng is said to restore mental and physical functioning. It might be used when fatigued, after illness, or during times of prolonged stress, chronic disease or low vitality. I pray that ...more
Jaki
Paints several snapshots of life along the border between China and North Korea, but the plot seemed less interesting to me than some of those self-contained scenes.

Recommended to people with an interest in China and North Korea, an interest in refugees and the reaction to their arrival, and an interest in a short quiet novel to pass the time. If you're looking for ethical dilemmas, those fall in here too...but personally I never grew too attached to any of the characters, which made me less int
...more
zespri
This beautiful little book caught my eye at the library, as I am always interested in books from anywhere in Asia.

What a lovely surprise it was, the style was sparse and beautiful, and the story absorbing and sobering.

A ginseng hunter who lives alone on the border of north east china and north korea becomes caught up in the great tragedy that is north korea. As he befriends a north korean prostitute he learns of the situation in her country, and then he finds a child who has swum across the riv
...more
Iva
Set at the turn of 21st century China on the border of North Korea, are two interwoven stories of a farmer who carefully gathers the valuable ginseng root and a women separated from her daughter. The theme of survival is currently happening as North Korean refugees attempt to flee to China. A spare and moving novella.
Ritja
Traurig, beklemmend, bedrückend und aufwühlend ist dieses Buch und doch sollte man es lesen. Es geht um den Machtkampf zwischen China und Nordkorea und wie dieser auf dem Rücken der Menschen ausgetragen wird. Der letzte Ginsengjäger lebt genau an der Grenze und sucht jedes Jahr aufs neue die Wurzel. Er richtet sein Leben nach der Wurzel und den Jahreszeiten. Bescheiden und sehr zurückgezogen lebt er für sich allein. Einzig sein monatlicher Besuch in der Stadt und der damit verbundene Gang zum Bo ...more
Christina
A stark and lovely little book. (I checked it out because the cover was nice, typical of me, but it turned out to be a good choice.) Taking place on the river that forms the border between China and North Korea, the plot unfolds in series of events and memories that are small and all-consuming at once.

What I was struck by throughout was the overwhelming absurdity of the men who run the countries - the shadow of Mao darkens one side of the river; Great Leader (and his son Dear Leader) stifle the
...more
Tze-Wen
[This review was originally published on my blog.]

When I first read the book's title, I was intrigued by the word "hunter". Surely, one would go out to "find" or "dig up" ginger, but not to hunt it like an animal? The author, however, soon convinced me otherwise. The descriptions of the protagonist taking his time discovering a ginseng plant are not ludicrous at all. I would never have thought that it takes so much care and attention to remove the roots from the ground. It takes patience and per
...more
Amy
The blurb says: "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 is an unforgettable portrait of life along a
fragile border." It is about a guy who lives a very solitary life on a
farm along the Chinese side of this border, he hunts for ginseng for a
living, occasionally going to town to sell it and to visit a brothel.
He becomes involved with a North Korean prostitute as things heat up
between North Korea
...more
Kiki
Der Ginsenjäger ist eine melancholische Erzählung von Einsamkeit und tiefer Naturverbundenheit. Die Handlung ist minimal gehalten. Das Buch lebt von der Fantasie, die es anzuregen vermag.

Eine Vielzahl an Konflikten wird berührt, niemals konkretisiert. Der tiefe Krater zwischen zwei Volksgruppen, die nur durch einen Fluss getrennt voneinander leben; ein Herrscher gegen sein Volk, eine abgeschiedene Bevölkerung als Opfer von Manipulation, der Gehorsam eines Soldaten und nicht zuletzt ein innerer

...more
Katie
A sad, subtle, time-piece story set in China.

Talarigo writes in segments - often less than three pages at a time - and leaves nearly all of the characters nameless. While I didn't connect deeply to them, I found their stories gentle and touching.

...a quick read.
Linda
Not as good as Jeff Talarigo's other book, The Pearl Diver, but a good, quick read about a farm set on the North Korea/China border at the turn of the 21st century and all the horrors the Koreans face as they try to escape the rule of The Great Leader.
Laura
This book is deeply impactful. The writing is extraordinary, and the story luridly detailed. I am dying to close read all of the incredible images in the stories, and imagine that I will be reflecting on this for a long time.
Sam
Though it starts a bit slowly, the story draws you in quite easily. As enigmatic as North Korean life, the story gives glimpses of life along the Chinese/North Korean border towards the end of the 20th century.
Shannon
Interesting time and place for this novel which is set along the North Korea and Chinese border. Quite a short book and that is perhaps why I never did come to feel connected with any of the characters (which is sad to say given the grim reality surrounding them). A few of the anecdotes described by the prostitute remind us of how closed North Korea is to the outside world but then really so was our Ginseng Hunter and his was due more to his own isolation of a mountain dwelling farmer and ginsen ...more
Carol Roman
Reading about North Korea and how strange and cruel their government is to its own people is chilling. This was depicted graphically by Talarigo.

It was a good read, but could have been far better. The lead character was cold and distant. While he had some feeling for the plight of the Korean mother and child, he didn't act on this in any significant way. It was more the telling of the sad plight of the North Korean people.
Suzanne
The voices in the book are not easily differentiated, which was difficult for me at first. Then I wondered if the author meant it to be that way, as a commentary on the loss of individuality in dictatorships such as North Korea and China which are the settings for this book. The thoughtfulness and truth of his writing--the beauty of the settings, the hunting of the ginseng, the bitterness of a winter without food or heat, the harshness of how humans can treat others--create a small book with a b ...more
Lynette
A beautiful book about people who live on either side of the river which divides China and North Korea. The book is set in the late 1990s and describes the horrific poverty and hunger experienced by the people of North Korea. The protagonist makes his living hunting ginseng in the forests of china,and even his meager life seems abundunt in comparison to thos of the North Koreans who try to escape across the river to China. Highly recommended. Beautiful and poetic prose writing.
Miko Lee
This was interesting tale about a man on the border of China and Korea. His attempt to live a simple farm life of collecting ancient ginseng becomes mired as more and more North Koreans cross the border and become entangled in his life. The main character was well drawn, but the females that he came into contact with were not so clearly delineated. It was definitely a downer and not with the strong educational component that would have made it worth it for me.
Toni
While not as captivating as His first novel, The Pearl Diver, I found this book a true insight into the harsh reality of North Korean life today. The Ginseng Hunter is men who wants nothing more than to live alone in his home on the border of China and North Korea, procure the delicate ginseng root from the soil, and sell it so he can survive the cold winters. Instead, fate thrusts him into the lives of people who live on the edge of death every day.
Karen
A little disappointed in this one as the review sounded so much better than it is. I think the problem was that it is such a short book that there is no time to really develop the characters. The parts about the ginseng were really interesting though. Most of the book deals with how cruel humans really are.
Elizabeth
a farmer lives on the border between China and North Korea. the river that borders his farm serves as a gateway to a new land of freedom for many. the farmer is torn between loyalty to his solace or helping newly arrived immigrants find food and shelter. he befriends a prostitute that tells him what her difficult life has been like living in complete poverty and being taken away to a reeducation camp. beautifully written.
Amanda Petrucelli
SPOILER: What's neat about this book, which takes place in the rural Chinese villages on the North Korean border, is that you don't know what era it's in until much later in the book -- and you realize it's NOW. (Tell me if I'm wrong.)It's just THAT rural, so you can't tell. The theme, though, is timeless. Refugees in North Korea are starving and crossing the border and a regular guy has an opportunity to help them or help himself.
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