A dozen years after her 18-year-old identical twin sister disappeared from a beach on South Korea's Baengnyeong Island, just west of North Korea, Georgetown geopolitics professor Jenna Williams risks her life to find her.
The year is 2010. Jenna, whose mother is Korean and father African-American, has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the apparent drowning of her sibling, who had been preparing to spend a gap year studying music in Seoul. Jenna's efforts to lose herself in her work are upended by a Japanese woman in the news who claims her long-missing teenage son was one of many young foreign nationals abducted from beaches and taken to North Korea by submarine. Recruited by the CIA, Jenna undergoes intensive training and enters North Korea on a supposed peace mission. Danger awaits. Meanwhile, newly promoted North Korean Col. Cho is sent to the United States to negotiate with the evil West after the state eliminates his predecessor—a fate Cho gravely fears awaits him if his blood ties to a traitor are revealed. And a woman from a farm collective, Mrs. Moon, sets herself up as a black marketeer after selling goods from a South Korean aid balloon and learning such tricks of the trade as bribery. Welsh novelist John (Flight from Berlin, 2009), who visited North Korea in 2012, offers an informed look at the oppression, corruption, and widespread suffering under Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un. But as entertaining as the converging plots can be, the book is too lightweight to be taken as seriously as it wants. And the author is a bit too understanding of the murderous Kim and his need to launch rockets.
A sometimes-suspenseful but never gripping novel about North Korea circa 2010.