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on 22 May 2013
Fantastic story that took me by surprise. It takes a good 200 pages before you really get the gist of what is happening but it feels great when it all fits into place. Also I think Adam Johnson deserves an enormous amount of praise for tackling this incredibly difficult, yet often ignored, problem that is N.Korea. American audiences no doubt hear a great deal about N.Korea but here in the UK we only hear about it when there is another missile test. It's incredibly disturbing to think a regime as backward as this has lasted so long. I was too young to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall, I'm optimistic though that I will live to see the end of the DMZ.

Bearing in mind this is fiction, the narrative still projects a powerful real life message - something I an unlikely to forget anytime in the future.
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on 1 March 2017
Not an easy read. However I was gripped and although I haven't read any other books by Adam Johnson I sort of enjoyed it, although perhaps enjoy is not the best word to use. It has certainly made me find out more about North Korea and as I was reading it the half brother of the current President was 'assassinated '. It will be very interesting to hear what my bookclub girls think when we meet shortly.
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on 5 January 2015
This book has certainly opened my eyes, and encouraged me to seek more information on North Korea,
I know from hearing Adam Johnson on television etc that it is well researched, indeed he might even have underplayed some of the worst atrocities, but it is a novel not a documentary.
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on 29 June 2017
So good. I'm evangelical about it but don't want to lend it out because I want to read it again.
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on 7 March 2017
very interesting book, quite unlike any other I've read, in the past.
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on 11 June 2013
I was attracted by the setting of this book - that is North Korea and the positive book reviews it attracted. In many ways, the author couldn't have gone wrong having picked North Korea as a setting. The book itself, though a bit cliched at times, is an interesting reading. There is a dark comic side to the book which I found particularly endearing. Having said that, in my opinion, comparisons with the likes of Nineteen Eighty Four are rather exaggerated. Yes it is about a dystopian setting and the author does a great job of using metaphors to represent what life might be like in North Korea. However, the narrative is rather flat and predictable at times.

*Potential Spoiler Alert*

In many ways, it would have been good if the book turned out to be "biography" of Commander Ga - The author seemed to be getting at that yet somehow appears to have shied away from making the book as such.

In any case, it is still worthwhile reading and I enjoyed the book.
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on 6 January 2017
I can understand why some would be reluctant to read a 500 + page book on North Korea. But this book will not disappoint. It is brilliantly written, fascinating and relevant.

The work is prescient given the worldwide fake news phenomenon. Imagine living in a dystopian world where everything is as mandated and not as it truly exists. Imagine a world where reality is not what you see but what is declared. So, if one day a strange man walks into a home and announces that he is your husband and the father of your children, you go along because you think that it is what the government must have wanted. After all, didn't the same government announce that doves swarmed above the beloved leader to provide him with shade? And what if that stranger turns out to be the "true" father who saves the family? Ah all the twist and turns of "reality."

Nothing in Adam Johnson's novel is certain. Is the protagonist Jun Do an orphan? Is his identity ever clear or is he really John Doe? Not even the novel itself is beyond doubt. Is the novel a depiction of the truth that exists in North Korea? How can we be sure and how can it be verified? Very thought provoking and an excellent read.
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on 6 September 2013
I usually enjoy reading books about people in other countries, Their lives are so different. This was a very good book but I was horrified to hear what has been going on in North Korea. I do however recommend it otherwise how would I have found out?
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I admit, if i had read about this book a year or two ago I probably wouldn't have been quite so intrigued by it. If there's any book that can be said to be topical and follow a resurgent trope, this is it. Not in any kind of exploitative way, needless to say. But through a series of unpleasant coincidences, this really should be the book of the moment, the one on everyone's lips. Not just for its topicality, but for it's quality also.

This is the story of a North Korean orphan boy, and his journey from the orphanage to the interrogation bunkers of his nation's Dear Leader. The structure is complex, and certainly not linear. The first couple of hundred pages tell of our orphaned young man's early adventures in his homeland, and the second tell of his fantastical reach into the echelons of the mad power structure of the country under the guise of one Commander Ga. The first section is [relatively] straightforward, the second is the more challenging, but once you get your head around what's going on, it is by some distance the more rewarding of the two sections (not that the first is not of high quality). It also becomes the most compulsively gripping, interesting, frightening, and dangerously strange.

This is a book about many things: identity and stories predominantly, however (characters lie, act, pretend, say what they expect the leaders want to hear, change names, change personalities, change husbands, change life-stories). The narrative message that's what is conveyed by narrative is true, whether or not it is the truth, is one of the overarching messages here. Certainly in terms of life in North Korea.

Perhaps the most touching aspect of the story is the humanity of some of the characters, the citizens of Korea. Just like you and I, of course, but who live their lives with a complete different structure and belief, whether because simply go along with their governments version of events, or truly believe they live and are governed in the best way (it is deemed madness that Americans are not dispensed food tokens, that suntanning is not free, that dogs are trained in obedience but not children), which sometimes seems strangely plausible. The difference between people's internal and external lives is displayed clearly and sometimes heartbreakingly, particularly in some of the scenes between the interrogator and his parents.

This is a wonderful book. Deep and rich, moving, frightening, enlightening, scary, and funny. Highly recommended.
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on 7 August 2014
good, enjoyable read.
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