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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

The Ginseng Hunter - Jeff Talarigo Rating: 3* of fiveThe 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 tied, in the end, to the natural world of his ginseng hunting.Intertwined with his first-person narrative is a third-person narrative of a much younger North Korean woman, a prostitute with a daughter to support in a country where there is next to nothing material available to its citizens. She meets the ginseng hunter in the course of business, as he traverses the border between the two countries freely. He pursues a peculiar, sort-kinda relationship with her, and as the North Korean regime turns more insane than ever, lives are lost (to put it mildly) and the ginseng hunter's petite amie is at serious risk.The novel's resolution of these strands...unworldly man must decide the fate of worldly woman...is succinct and played out like Chinese opera: Gesturally, accompanied by the bare minimum of speech needed, and set against the most gorgeous, lavish scenery imaginable.My Review: I want to kill the lousy, incompetent, damnfool idiot editor and copy editor of this book. Dead. I'll be merciful and say it can be quick. But the truly lovely récit that is in this awkward short novel, the beautiful sparkling gem that could have been cut from the rock here, is lost.What earthly use was there, I wondered as I cruised through this, in putting in the third-person narrative of the prostitute's dreary life? Did it do anything for the arc of the story? Not that I could see, it didn't. It jarred against the ginseng hunter's flowing narrative of his world and its widening circles in an unnecessary way. If the récit form had been followed, the young woman's dreadful plight, and his decision as to how he'd resolve it, would have been just as powerful. The ginseng hunter is the heart and soul and point of the book, or if he's not, the young prostitute is too poorly developed to play her role effectively.But that's the book the editor created, and I assume she (specifically named in the author's acknowledgments) intended to create. That it isn't the book I'd've made out of the material at hand is just too damn bad for me, eh what?Fair enough point. But in reading a book, is the reader not expected, indeed almost required, to participate in the creation of the story as the writer and the editor (and the copy editor, more on that anon) unfold it before him (in my case)? That is, in the act of reading, isn't the reader's job to allow the words to create emotional responses, to call up sense memories, to paint on the mind's canvas images of things known and unknown? And therefore, isn't it also incumbent on the reader to look carefully at those images, analyze those sense memories, and determine which ones are successfully evoked and which are wanting? Then comes the “why” of it...why did this not work for me? What was the author aiming at, and did I get there with him?As my answers to all the above are “yes,” I'm willing to use my review, my opinion, informed by a long lifetime of reading and a career in publishing's outer groves, to offer informed conclusions as to what went right and what went wrong in a given text.What went right in this story was all the ginseng hunter's viewpoint, and what went wrong was the awkward intersection between the prostitute's viewpoint and the ginseng hunter's viewpoint. Less can indeed be more, but more was needed to stitch these two narratives together and make a successful novel out of them. Less of what was given would have turned this into a beautiful récit. As it was, the beautiful bits earned the book three stars, which is more than I'd normally give a Frankenbook.Lastly, I want to comment in terms most censorious upon the job done by the copy editor. By page 23, I was so angry that I followed my punkin pie around the house reading howlers and snarling about them, and then called a friend of mine and made HER listen to me rant about them. A person hired to copy edit a book who allows the non-word “clinged” to be typeset, printed, bound, and offered for sale in the United States of America should be subject to legal sanctions. I'll stop there, because I can feel my blood pressure rising, but there are other errors, not mere infelicities, that caused me severe pain. Copyediting is a serious job. How words are presented on a page is a very important part of how a book is perceived by readers. The purpose of the job is to make the author's words transparent vehicles for communicating the ideas they carry. It is jolting, jarring, to have to stop and say to one's self, “wha...? what was that again?” in the process of reading. That is what poor, or no, copyediting leads to, and why editors and copy editors are such crucial (if invisible to most readers) parts of the reading process.Rant over. For today. Read the book, the ideas are wonderful and even mediocre presentation of them can't make them unpleasant enough to avoid.