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Ginseng Hunter

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  723 Ratings  ·  148 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 tointrude 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 river ...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (first published January 1st 2008)
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(showing 1-30)
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Richard Derus
Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 river unfolds, and soon the hunter realizes that the fates of the young woman and four othe
Taryn Rydell
Oct 02, 2014 Taryn Rydell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, arc
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 Ko ...more
Jan 04, 2009 Warren marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Although this story takes place in the 1990s, it feels in its simplicity like the characters exist in a much older time. It tells of a traditional Chinese ginseng hunter who lives along a remote stretch of the the river separating China from North Korea, and his observances of and ultimate involvement with several Koreans who are escaping from the starvation and cruelty in their country into his. It is written in a spare, simple style that lacks emotion, but which in this case seems appropriate, ...more
Dec 04, 2012 Candice rated it really liked it
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
J.M. Cornwell
Aug 04, 2008 J.M. Cornwell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2016 Chrisl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, hf-asia, 2000s
Were it possible to package the emotional chemicals that a book produces, I wonder how my feeling for The Giver, when I realized what was being given, would compare to the ongoing dark reality of this portrait of North Korea's viciously callous political nature.
The Giver

In a library, I'd consider applying a Horror spine label. It felt like being on Cormac's Road. The end wasn't likely to be uplifting.
The Road

The book's back jacket quotes Booklist "As incendiary as it is restrained, Talarigo's s
Rick Skwiot
Nov 13, 2012 Rick Skwiot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Jan 31, 2012 Patty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: readin12
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
Jan 21, 2010 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 04, 2010 Jaki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2011 zespri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 31, 2009 Iva rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
The North Korean characters exist only to help the protagonist learn valuable life lessons, although whether he does learn them is questionable. Dismal copyediting (flu for flue, peddling for paddling) heightened my annoyance with the book.
Lori Thompson
Hmmmmm. I guess I just didn't get this one. It is a book about a very serious issue.......defection from North Korea. And the life of people in China dealing with the defection. I felt that none of the characters were developed. Especially the North Korean prostitute and the young North Korean girl. Luckily this is quite a short read or I would have given up on it. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who was speaking in the story as I listened to this as an audible book. Not only was the ...more
Jul 07, 2012 Tze-Wen rated it really liked it
[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
Buddy read with Andrew

Jeff Talarigo has found a way to paint a story that is breathtaking in beauty and in loneliness. The storytelling is sparse, but still rich in imagery and character development. This story is tragic and heartwarming and unsettling and worth the read.
Feb 24, 2017 Alan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wilkes
Books allow you to enter the lives of others and learn from them. Good books put you into those lives, and you feel their joys and pains. This book is a painful read--not because it isn't good, but because it is so good that you feel the pain and horror of life at the border of China and North Korea as you live it with these characters, thanking the fates that it's not a life you have to live in reality.
Cynthia Egbert
Aug 16, 2016 Cynthia Egbert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
"When I was a boy, my mother and I would go outside on nights such as this, each of us carrying a bench. We would lie down and watch the sky. She told me that this was the only way to truly see it. She was correct. After a while, it would be as if the sky and the earth were reversed. Turned upside down - like right and wrong, I think."

This statement rather sums up this book. This was the most intense 177 pages I have read in a long time. I nearly couldn't finish and put it down a few times befor
Apr 30, 2008 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
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
Oct 13, 2012 Ritja rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china, familie
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
Charles Dingman
Sep 15, 2016 Charles Dingman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To what should I ascribe the confusions, dreamlike sequences, and unexplained actions in this narrative? I wondered. I was falling asleep sometimes, or just waking up to the ongoing audio performance, as usual for me these days and nights. Then, after rehearing many chapters and noting where the sudden jumps were written that way, not just due to my snoozing. I realized the progression of my interior condition was not unlike that of the novel's characters, a remarkable effect achieved in only a ...more
Apr 03, 2009 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 02, 2009 Kiki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wertvolligkeit
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

Marika Ann
Jul 14, 2016 Marika Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you decide to read this book, get ready for a slow start. Perhaps because I found this shelved on the mystery section, I was expecting something a little different and that influenced my first impression, but I honestly didn't care about anyone for about the first quarter or third of the book.

However, it did end up capturing my attention. I thought the most fascinating parts weren't actually about the ginseng hunter, but about the peak into North Korea. It made me introspect about what actual
Mar 19, 2012 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 27, 2015 Bonnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 19, 2013 Shannon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
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
Cathy Aquila
Set at the turn of the twenty-first century in China along the Tumen River, which separates northeast China and North Korea. This book takes a look at the atrocities that go on under the screen of North Korea on a micro level. Not an easy book to read. Its subject matter (political oppression, loneliness, the madness of grief) is so overwhelmingly sad. But Talarigo's sparse, beautiful writing makes it all worthwhile.
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JEFF TALARIGO won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Foundation Award for his widely acclaimed first novel, "The Pearl Diver," After living in Japan for almost fourteen years, he, with his wife and son, moved back to the United States in 2006. He was awarded a fellowship at the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. "The Ginseng Hunt ...more
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