THE INVITATION-ONLY ZONE by Robert S. Boynton

THE INVITATION-ONLY ZONE

The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A thorough investigative report into the systematic abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Korean intelligence network over many decades.

Journalist Boynton (Director, Literary Reportage Program/New York Univ.; The New New Journalism: Conversations with America's Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft, 2005) continually circles back to the essential question regarding these absurd scenarios of abduction from the streets and coasts of Japan since the mid-1970s: what was the point of kidnapping the Japanese and bringing them back to North Korea for brainwashing? The author explores the racial aspect: was the program an attempt by Kim Jong-Il’s authoritarian regime to instigate a “long-term breeding program” through abducted Japanese couples to introduce a mixed race that might serve as perfect spies? Or was the purpose to steal identities with which to create fake passports? Or possibly to get back at Japan for its long history of imperial ravaging? Boynton takes a few of these sagas of abduction and brings them vividly to life—e.g., the fairly typical story of Kaoru Hasuike and his girlfriend, Yukiko Okudo, who were young students in 1978 when they were abducted from a Japanese beach and transported to North Korea. Separated for “re-education” for two years and then reunited and married, the couple was moved through so-called heavily guarded “invitation-only zones” in Pyongyang, a kind of “gilded cage” for exceptional cases. For the couple, it was a way to keep them isolated and away from prying eyes. Thanks to a wrenching act of diplomacy between the two countries in 2002, Kim Jong-Il publicly apologized for the abductions, and an “extended visit” was arranged for a handful of surviving abductees (their children back in North Korea served as “de facto hostages”) to return to Japan, including the Hasuikes. The author seems as mesmerized by all this strangeness as readers will be. More than anecdotal stories, his work zeroes in on the deeply uneasy makeup of the Korean-Japanese relationship.

Engaging reading, surreal in some of the Orwellian detail.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-374-17584-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015




THIS WINTER'S BEST BETS:

FictionMY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout
by Elizabeth Strout
NonfictionMY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER by Chris Offutt
by Chris Offutt
FictionTHE PAST by Tessa Hadley
by Tessa Hadley
NonfictionTHE FIREBRAND AND THE FIRST LADY by Patricia Bell-Scott
by Patricia Bell-Scott

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTHE WAGES OF GUILT by Ian Buruma
by Ian Buruma
NonfictionROGUE REGIME by Jasper Becker
by Jasper Becker