Set in North Korea, this book follows the life of the orphan master's son, Jun Do, as he becomes a tunnel fighter, kidnapper, spy and national hero.
The book has the air of a fable, and also tells the story through propaganda, imagining the way it might actually be told in North Korea. Often the story assumes a humorous, almost tongue in cheek air, yet when you consider it as a work of fiction that is actually based on a lot of research into a real nation and its people, it becomes very tragic. Families are punished for the perceived misdeeds of one member, fathers refuse to trust their own sons, and people will risk their lives for a meal of flowers.
Despite carrying out some horrible deeds, Jun Do manages to remain a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, a good man forced to commit atrocities by a cruel state that will turn on him all too quickly if he doesn't comply. The story leads him in picaresque fashion from one adventure to another, supported by a rich cast of characters who all have their own tragic stories.
This book can be taken on two levels, as a simple tale of one man's journey through life and suffering, but also as a very intelligent exploration of a secretive nation that is unfamiliar to many. Entertaining yet extremely thought-provoking, made all the more compelling by the notes that reveal the level of research carried out by the author, and his own travels in North Korea.