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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 12 May 2017
Sent as gift as much admired thanks.
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Thank you kindly to the publisher for the Advance Reading Copy.

Fukuoka Prison, 1944. Beyond the prison walls the war rages; inside a man is found brutally murdered. Watanabe, a young guard with a passion for reading, is tasked with finding the killer. The victim, Sugiyama – also a guard – was feared and despised throughout the prison and investiWgations have barely begun when a powerful inmate confesses. But Watanabe is unconvinced; and as he interrogates both the suspect and Yun Dong-ju, a talented Korean poet, he begins to realise that the fearsome guard was not all he appeared to be . . .

First of all I should make clear that I adored this one with a fiery passion. Not since “The Humans” by Matt Haig has a book touched me on a level such as this one. Absolutely addictive reading, with some beautiful prose I was fully immersed from start to finish. There is poetry within the pages – both literally and metaphorically – and the tale itself is a compelling one.

The book is inspired by the life and death of Korean poet Yun Dong-ju and uses some of his posthumously published work, Poetry and the beauty of words is a theme throughout..and it works so well, having an effect on heart and soul that I can’t really put into words. Add to that a snapshot of prison life during war, some absolutely amazing characters and a tendency to surprise you when you least expect it and you have a reading experience that is difficult to categorise.

I really hope that people don’t read the synopsis and think this is just a crime novel, or a war story. Whilst in a very small way it could be described as both of those things, there is after all a crime and it IS set during a war, the heart of this novel is so far removed from those two things, it kind of sits outside them peering in. I have also seen it described as “Literary” – well yes but again, to me and to quite a few readers I know, “Literary” often transcribes into bloated and endlessly dull – in fact Vicky Newham and I were having this very discussion last night. This book is anything BUT dry, it is never dull and is fascinating, heart stopping and purely graceful throughout.

This is a story about how words have power. Power to change us, power to give us hope and joy even under the direst of circumstances. How inner beauty does not always shine – as Watanabe investigates the death of Sugiyama he discovers a man he never knew existed. It puts him firmly in the path of another man who will change his life. And running through the strands of the story are always the words – the poetry – and the heart of humanity. There is certainly more than one mystery going on here.

This is the first book from a Korean author that I have read. Kudos to the translater, this is perfect in almost every way. I believe Jung-Myung Lee will be visiting the UK later this year and I hope, I really do, that I get to see him when he does and perhaps hear him speak. It feels like one of those things that must be done.

I hope that I have inspired you to read this even if you would normally not consider such a book. Novels like this do not come along that often – for me anyway. I loved every minute of it. It brought me to tears in a cathartic way – And if I had to describe it in one word, one magical word, that word would be exquisite.

Happy Reading Folks!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Like My Name Is Red and, to a lesser extent, The Name Of The Rose, this book uses the device of a murder investigation to explore and articulate the potency of art, in this case poetry, to serve as a marker of hope and beauty in the midst of moral darkness.

Watanabe is just 17 when he is called up in 1941 to join the Japanese war effort, and is given a guard posting at Fukuoka prison where dissidents, `traitors' and other `undesirables' are held - including a nationalist Korean poet. When Watanabe's colleague, a brutal and only just literate guard is found murdered, the young man is put in charge of the investigation.

This is a heartfelt and very sincere book which has important, if not original, things to say about the relationships between art, freedom and humanity. The writing is clear and straightforward, and reminded me of the spare character of Japanese haiku. In that sense, there isn't a strong atmosphere in the book of Japan in the midst of war, or the claustrophobia of the prison. Literature itself (and, to a lesser extent, music) is important to this story and people are characterised through what they read, what books are confiscated from them, even how they read.

I really wanted to love this and found that I merely liked it: while agreeing wholeheartedly with its ideological stance, I found this less emotionally powerful and moving than I had hoped. Nonetheless, this is a sombre and sober read with important things to say about the role of art and the way it connects us to a humanity beyond the individual and the momentary.
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VINE VOICEon 19 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel is not about a brutal murder nor is it a detective story with clues and red herrings. There is no gratuitous violence either. It is a book about the hidden sides of character and the desire, if not to undo, at least to come to terms with the effects of the past. It examines the unlikely relationships that can develop in the most unexpected situations.

The prose is gracefully written, lyrical in parts and has a cool terseness that has no hint of self-pity or justification. It is a long time since I have so spellbound by the discipline and elegance of a modern writer; the style is at once reserved and intimate, melancholic and hopeful. The characters and the plot are based on the life and death of a Korean poet, told by a guard in the prison wherein he was confined. The pivot of the book (for me) is really the guard whose murder opens the first chapter and the author leads us very skilfully to watch how contact changes human behaviour, sometimes in ways we might not want to acknowledge.

The narrative description of the prison, the inmates and the routines which degrade both prisoners and guards is excellent. There is not one word wasted and simultaneously the reader is unaware of the editor's presence. The dialogue flows naturally and the denouement is without pyrotechnics. I cannot speak highly enough of this book, although its melancholy and its unimpassioned catalogue of harshness is not for those who want a ten-minute read at bedtime.

This book comes from a very different culture and that shows in the style, but the hopes, fears and dreams expressed are not at all unfamiliar to us. I hope the author has every success in the West; he is already very well-known in Korea, his own country. I thank him and salute him.
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VINE VOICEon 27 March 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A novel which casts its protagonist as someone awaiting trial for war crimes is not the most cheery opening for any book. Jung-myung Lee has done it though. A story set at the tail end of WW2 in a Japanese detention centre in Korea is also less likely to appeal to the casual reader. Dealing with the murder/suicide/death of the a seemingly brutal prison guard, the ensuing investigation by the young and naive Watanabe casts light on the question of how well we know other people. Several strong characters throughout and an attention to detail rarely seen in western literature keep you interested. With strong echoes of Rashomon and Lady Vengeance, not everything can be believed, or is to be believed, just because someone you trust tells you it is so. Drawing heavily on poetry, music and literature of the recent Korean past the book draws you in, and never really lets go.
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on 18 May 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've never read anything from Korea before, and it was a pleasure to be introduced to literature from this country through Jung-myung's book. Weaving Korean poetry into a tale about the horrors of life under Japanese occupation, the author and translator nevertheless wrote in a clear, accessible way that meant the tale was easy to follow and enjoy.

I did feel, though, that after about half way the book didn't really go anywhere. It starts as an investigation into the death of a guard, but morphs into more of a study of Korean poetry. This is by no means bad, but the storyline seemed to suffer as the author spent more and more time discussing the effects of poetry and how prisoners wrote poetry under occupation.

An ok read, then, but after a strong start I must admit I lost interest towards the end.
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on 16 December 2015
I really wasn't bowled over by this novel. I admit I know nothing of Korea or Korean writers and maybe that doesn't help. Like most readers I found the premise interesting and just like some, my attention started flagging after a short while. The book lost momemtum and I found things I couldn't get reconciled to. The investigation into Sugiyama' s death soon became a pretext for writing about something else entirely. I never could accept the fact that the extremely brutal guard is then portrayed as a sensitive soul and a great poet. I was never convinced by the arguments and wasn't convinced either that poetry could feed the needs of starving and cruelly abused prisoners.That it could be so for one or two of them, maybe, but most people under such dire circumstances would only feel relief when provided with what was so cruelly missing, namely food, warmth and rest. I also found the style very wooden and didn't know whether it was due to the author's style or a fault in the translation. This stopped me from warming towards the protagonists. I was also very surprised at how the young guard investigator Yuichi was '' allowed'' to speak to his superiors at times. From films watched and books read, I always was under the impression that a superior's orders weren't to be discussed and that only the fullest signs of respect would be tolerated. And yet, here we find young Yuichi, barely twenty years old, taking initiatives and even, by the end, shouting at his superior officers. It seemed totally implausible and in complete contradiction to the idea of blind loyalty that we've always been led to believe the Japanese felt for hierarchy and order.
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I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Yuichi Watanabe is a young Japanese prison guard, drafted in to guard Korean prisoners in Fukuoka Prison during WWII. He is ordered to investigate the murder of another prison guard, Sugiyama, a cruel man, feared throughout the prison. As Watanabe begins to investigate he comes into contact with thugs, wily prisoners and a young, gentle poet. He also begins to find out that Sugiyama and the prisoners are not all that they would first appear to be.

This is a beautifully written piece of literature. There is beauty, and sometimes sadness, to be found on each page and whilst the topic and the outcome were not always beautiful it was a pleasure to read. Jung-Myung Lee provides such an evocative image of the prison and it's inhabitants it's easy to imagine being there. The claustrophobia and melancholy are almost palpable and the reader is transported back in time to 1940's wartime Japan. The slow revelation of Sugiyama's relationship with the prisoners, particularly Yun Dong-Ju, a young poet is a joy to follow.

At the heart of The Investigation is the message that a prison doesn't just have to be a physical thing. Yun Dong-Ju is imprisoned in Fukuoka but sets himself free metaphorically with his poetry and literature. Sugiyama discovers that he has been in his own prison of violence and fear and his discovery of poetry helps to change his outlook on life and set him free. It's about how music, poetry or prose can open endless possibilities, cause heartbreak, cause our hearts to swell and ultimately show us all a glimpse of true freedom, even if it is just fleetingly.

This is a fictional work based on the real life of Yun Dong-Ju, a Korean poet. I hope to be able to read more about him and discover his poetry in the future.

This was a book I wanted to savour but was so compelling it was at times difficult to put to one side. Practically perfect, it is a fantastic read from start to finish.
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on 15 June 2014
In Japan in 1944, Yuichi Watenabe, a young prison guard with a passion for reading, is given the task of investigating the murder of another prison guard, Sugiyama Dozan. The Fukuoko prison is for dissidents which include many Koreans who oppose the Japanese occupation of Korea. Seventeen year old Yuichi, the shy bookish boy, was called up in 1941 and assigned to prison guard duties while the murder victim, Sugiyama, was a forty year old veteran, known for his brutality. Yuichi must interrogate the Korean prisoners to find a murderer and he finds the poet, Yun Dong-ju, and the frequently punished Choi Chi-su may have information to help him understand.
This is a crime novel in which poetry and the horrors of war become central. The brutality of the treatment of the prisoners by their guards is hard to accept but the some of the prisoners manage to transcend their treatment. The atmosphere of such a prison camp is clearly evoked in beautifully spare prose. The poems of real life Yun Dong-ju are quoted, as are other Western literary books to expand an understanding of the human condition and the concept of freedom. We can follow the effects of music and poetry on individuals.
The puzzle for Yuichi seems to be solved quite quickly but the ramifications are so complex that he has to continue investigating and finding more and more inexplicable happenings. Jung-Myung Lee sways the sympathies of the reader towards different protagonists by his clever manipulation of events, attitudes and his excellent writing.
For a Western reader this gives a good impression of the Second World War war from the Korean and Japanese perspectives. It is a literary and crime novel of stature. The use of a real poet as a major character is clever.
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Translated from Korean and inspired by the real-life Korean poet Yun Dong-ju, many of whose poems are to be found in the book, this is an unusual and deeply moving novel about the power of literature and words, the quest for beauty in the face of savagery and the redemption that can be found in friendship. It’s set in Fukuoka Prison in Japan during WW2. A guard has been found dead, hanging from a beam. His name is Sugiyama Dozan and he was feared and despised by all the prisoners for his cruelty and brutality. A young teenage conscript guard called Watanabe Yuichi is charged with investigating the murder. As he digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding it he discovers a whole world of conspiracies and deceptions that turn his world upside down. All his certainties about war and justice and punishment are subverted by what he finds.
This is quite an amazing and haunting book. Whilst war rages outside, in this closed world of the prison another battle is raging, one that insists on humanity and compassion in the worst of conditions. Literature can be powerful enough to change lives. A vivid and raw picture of a Japanese prison and the unbelievably cruel treatment meted out to the despised Korean prisoners, this is a coruscating attack on human depravity, with some truly horrifying descriptions, but with a conviction that art can indeed change the world if given a chance.
A powerful novel, one that I very much enjoyed, excellently and seamlessly translated and one that defies being put into a category. I hope that more of the author’s books will be available to us soon.
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