Engaging reading, surreal in some of the Orwellian detail.

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THE INVITATION-ONLY ZONE

THE TRUE STORY OF NORTH KOREA'S ABDUCTION PROJECT

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. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-17584-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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