A rich, artistic novel reveals a culture obscured and unknown.


A coming-of-age story set in North Korea’s fringe Chinese community uncovers a shocking world of art and tradition suppressed underneath the country’s disciplined veneer.

To the outside world, North Korea is a gray, choreographed nation, but even under such an oppressive regime, a surprising Chinese community exists within its borders. Mickey and his family are a part of this community, and while not an identity of privilege, it does afford advantages. Though frowned upon, sometimes even punished, there is tolerance for many to work as smugglers, bringing in outside luxuries while selling off pieces of the country’s history or, at the very least, convincing fakes. Mickey toils under a harsh mentor who trains him as an artist and a forger, but his passions lean harder toward the latter. Further igniting his imagination is a painted, antique copper snuff bottle, a family heirloom that has become a talisman to him. Its counterpart was spirited away by his grandmother Lily, who left North Korea for Moscow. The alluring mystery of Lily and the other bottle moves him to seek out greater freedoms as he studies art abroad. He also helps his brother Piggy in smuggling and faces the dangers of fools, assassins, and idealists. Kim’s debut reads as much like poetry as it does prose, Mickey’s travels and ebbing naiveté recalling the novels of Kerouac—though with far less whimsy and far greater consequence. Colorful digressions into his family’s history permeate but never distract from Mickey’s travels. Characters and their experiences, even outside of the protagonist’s plotline, matter. A foolish Western woman extolling the “hardiness” of North Korean socialism isn’t presented as just caricature, and a cruel rival from Mickey’s youth grows, unseen but believably, into a co-conspirator if not a friend. Most notably Mickey’s first love, Minsu, appears sporadically but offers a luckless story that could (and should!) be a novel unto itself, her hardships reminding readers that even Mickey’s journey is not as difficult as others’.

A rich, artistic novel reveals a culture obscured and unknown.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-909979-76-5

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Crux Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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