Book review: Star of the North

07 Aug 2019 / 10:45 H.

THIS is an engaging thriller about a woman trying to rescue her twin sister from captivity in North Korea, and the North Korean citizens with whom she forms an unlikely alliance to achieve this.

Star of the North kicks off in 1998, when a Korean-American teenager named Soo-min is kidnapped from a South Korean beach by North Korean operatives.

Twelve years later, her twin sister Jenna (born Jee-min), an academic at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., joins the CIA, hoping to find her twin through the agency.

When she receives evidence that her sister may still be alive in North Korea, Jenna develops a plan to rescue her – including undertaking a daring mission to North Korea.

Her story is told together with two other narratives.

In one, a North Korean peasant woman finds a forbidden international aid balloon in the forest and uses the valuables inside to start a lucrative black-market business.

In the other, a high-ranking North Korean official discovers that he may be descended from a traitor, a fact that could mean death if revealed.

The official, Cho Sang-ho, is a lieutenant colonel in North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has knowledge about

Pyongyang’s kidnapping programme (and many of the country’s other dark secrets).

While in New York on a diplomatic mission, he meets Jenna who tells him about Soo-min and seeks his help to find her. Initially reluctant, Cho has a change of heart in the end.

As an undercover CIA agent, Jenna goes to North Korea where she poses as a translator for a UN peace mission.

As the novel progresses, these narratives converge and connect in surprising ways, ultimately building to an explosive and unexpected climax.

Author D.B. John brings to life the hidden dark side of North Korea, a country which he visited in 2012.

John excels at painting the everyday life in North Korea and engages the readers with these tough realities – the drug use of the lower classes, the paranoia and fear of those who have gained access to the upper ranks, and the omnipotence of the Bowibu, the state security force.

This book also offers a glimpse of the horrors of the detention camps for those deemed to be enemies of the state.

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