Warning: this story is not for the faint of heart, but don’t miss it because it is a brilliant book. Adam Johnson’s orphan gives us a bird’s eye view of what it might be like to live in the world’s most secretive society: North Korea.
The main character , Pak Jun Do, is an orphan (though that might not be true ) who goes from tunnel rat, to kidnapper of Japanese citizens from their beaches, to one who spies by listening to radio transmissions for “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, and finally impersonating a General. It is a strange voyage and one that leaves you anxious because nothing is permanent or safe in this society. The torture, the prison camps, the starvation and the rules are very real. Through Jun Do, we watch his transformation from soldier carrying out the orders of this repressive regime to becoming a person we root for with his final selfless acts.( NY Times Book Review, Michiko Kakutani, January 12,2012)
Pak Jun Do goes from being an instrument of the state to a victim in this Kafka like story. The facts of the moment are subject to a rewrite later today or tomorrow in North Korea. This is a Stalinist society where anyone can be an informant, your mother, brother, husband, or child. The citizen who does the good deed for the state can be rewarded with life in prison, or a labor camp- it is an insane, unsafe place. The North Koreans are bombarded daily with broadcasts promoting the greatness of the regime and the limitations of the outside world. As a part of the ongoing propaganda by the North Korean government, their starving people are told food aid will be sent to the citizens of the United States who are victims of imperialistic America.
I had the honor of hearing Adam Johnson speak about his new book and at the conclusion I learned enough about North Korea that made me think this story is more non fiction than fiction. That’s my 2 cents.