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April 15, 2008

Book Notes - Jeff Talarigo ("The Ginseng Hunter")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Jeff Talarigo's debut novel, The Pearl Diver, was widely praised for its sensitivity and crisp prose. The Ginseng Hunter, Talarigo's second novel, is out today and is equally impressive, focusing on the human cost of political oppression.

Of the book, Library Journal wrote:

"Talarigo's characterization of this antihero is both sensitive and understanding. His descriptive prose is such that readers virtually see the wrinkles of the ginseng root, hear the sparrows' high-pitched call, and taste the cold, running stream. By subtly relating the struggle of plant life on the forest floor to the human struggle at the border, Talarigo offers us a novel that is ultimately a study of survival under hostile conditions."

In his own words, here is Jeff Talarigo's Book Notes essay for his novel, The Ginseng Hunter:

I began writing fiction back in 1993 while living in Japan. My habit of listening to music while writing also began at this time, more out of necessity, than desire. Weekday mornings in Japan are the time for door-to-door salespeople. They sell yogurt drinks, newspaper subscriptions, and religion. Once or twice a day the doorbell and the voice of a salesman interrupted my writing. Some of the salespeople were so startled by a foreigner answering the door, not just a foreigner, but also a male foreigner, that they never made their sales pitch at all. Others recovered and blurted out their pitch. One of the last salespeople I dealt with before beginning to wear headphones was a woman, a Jehovah Witness. When I opened the door she looked at me and I at her, and she tilted her head to the left and said, in English:


“No. Jeff,” I answered and slammed the door.

My second novel, The Ginseng Hunter, was written by hand in a coffee shop in Japan. The novel is set in present day China and North Korea and tells the story of a Chinese ginseng hunter and of a North Korean woman who escapes across the Tumen River into China and is sold into prostitution.

I listened to a lot of music in the three years that it took me to write the novel and below is my list of artists who put me in the proper frame of mind.

Patti Griffin (CD’s Impossible Dream, A Kiss in Time and 1000 Kisses): her gorgeous, sad songs were in my ears more than any other while writing The Ginseng Hunter.

Arvo Part (CD’s Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel): The Estonian composer who makes violins cry and pianos haunt.

Pink Floyd (The Wall): what more appropriate music to listen to when writing about North Korea?

David Gray: anything at all by him.

The Prayer Cycle: A beautiful CD featuring Alanis Morissette.

Nasser Shamma (Baghdad Lute): The brilliant Iraqi who tells stories with the lute.

Jeff Talarigo and The Ginseng Hunter links:

the author's website
the author's page at the publisher
the book's page at the publisher

Library Journal review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review

the publisher's interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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