Growing up an orphan in North Korea usually means one thing: your parents lost favor with the state and were sent to a work camp. And that’s how Pak Jun Do’s story begins. Johnson paints a world filled with unthinkable stories. In fact, in Johnson’s North Korea, if people are starving, then it is reported that the harvest was bountiful. If a military commander lead troops into battle, then it is reported that he killed thousands of enemies with no weapons. And if there is a tattoo on Pak Jun Do’s chest of a famous Korean actress, then she must be his wife. Pak Jun Do’s stories are taken for truth after his quick rise to personal favor with The Dear Leader himself.
The prose is written beautifully. But the best parts of this book are the subtle comparisons of American and North Korean daily lives. Johnson uses witty characters to point out misconceptions of the American view of North Korea. And in doing so, brings to light issues that plague American life as well.
For instance, Johnson writes, “When the dogs returned, the Senator gave them treats from his pocket, and Jun Do understood that in communism, you’d threaten a dog into compliance, while in capitalism, obedience is obtained through bribes.”
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who loves fiction that can twist your brain into seeing other points of view. Johnson spent six years researching stories from North Korean defectors and even visited the country. He gives his characters a sort of humanity not usually found in books about North Korea.