Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.” (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)
This is a book that was successful because it makes you think. It makes you take the convoluted view you have of the way they work, flip them backwards and pull them through a fence. I have some reservations about the accuracy of the portrayal of North Korea, but as it’s not exactly like you could pop over and fact check so I’m going to try to set aside my concerns for the moment. That being said: please don’t read this book as a 100% accurate account of living conditions. If you’d like to learn more about North Korea (as much as possible), I’d recommend, “Escape from Camp 14” for a glimpse.
The thing that blew my mind the most was how the alternation of narrators, which initially felt disjointed, blended into a story that kept me glued to the pages. I particularly enjoyed the radio show snippets towards the end of the book. Another reviewer described it perfectly in saying “it manages to both keep you uneasy and yet willing to read to the end”. Jun Do (hint: John Doe) is an anonymous protagonist who somehow manages to have you both rooting for him and wincing at his determination to continue on. The book is consistently horrifying and yet I feel that I have learned something more about human nature and the lengths people are willing to go to survive – even if that doesn’t mean living. The flip side is that it also makes you realize why people are willing to risk everything to escape. Whatever escape might mean. This is an uncomfortable book, but I do believe that I’ll want to re-read it at some point in the future.
Warning: Contains repeated graphic violence.
Rating: 5 stars!
Who should read it? Folks willing to read a challenge to the Westernized world.