The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Jerry Hopkins’ ‘Romancing the East’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 15•16

HopkinsRomancing_We’re old fashioned, those of us here at WoWasis. We like books that have left room to include a few blank pages at the end. Author Jerry Hopkins, one of the more prolific writers of the last few years, has written a compelling book that lacks those blank pages. It’s called Romancing the East: A Literary Odyssey from The Heart of Darkness to The River Kwai (2013, ISBN 9787-0-8048-4320-1). If you enjoy literature on the subject of Asia, this book belongs on your bookshelf as a reference, but also will quickly go to the top of your reading stack, we’d guess

It’s a profile of 33 western authors that have made Asia their beat for a short time or a lifetime, and you’ve heard of most of them. In a total of 285 pages, Hopkins can’t say a lot about each, word-count wise. But in a very few pages, he cuts to the chase, telling wonderful, interesting short tales of some rather interesting elements of these people’s lives. Much of it centers on why they felt driven to write about Asia.

That’s where those missing blank pages come in.

Gosh, how many of us of a certain age cut our eye teeth on Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories (we still get up close and personal to the “yellow peril” each time we set foot into a bar in Bangkok’s Nana Plaza). We’d forgotten about Rohmer, whose real name, Hopkins reminds us, was Arthur Henry Ward. Somewhere way in the back of our mind, we’d forgotten how the terms “Shangri-La” and “Suzie Wong” got into the lexicon, until Hopkins reminds us of James Hilton and Richard Mason. They sit here in Hopkins’ book, close to Maugham and Orwell, Conrad and Kipling, Michener and Clavell.

What were we saying about those missing blank pages?

Oh yes. That’s for the stuff we didn’t know, that we want to dig into further, that’s forcing us to consider and read books — and authors — we’d skipped or not known about. Read a book like Hopkins’ and you’ll find references to books that you’ll want to investigate when you’re done reading this one. You have a pencil handy so you can write them down in those blank pages, because when the book’s done, you’ll refer to your notes, head down to the bookstore, and go on a buying spree. And those notes will stay in the back of the book as long as you own it, making it your own personal reference.

Armed with those notes, you’ll soon be launched into the likes of Richard Condon’s Manchurian Candidate (p. 224), now all of a sudden made tantalizing through Hopkins’ short and powerful discussion. And Trevanian/Rod Whitaker’s Shibumi (267), Barry Eisler’s Rain (269), Michel Houellebecq’s Elementary Particles (274), and V.S. Naipaul’s biography by Patrick French (279). Since you don’t have those blank pages, you have to sneak all that stuff into a tiny patch of white on page 287, along with a few extra remarks about Steve Rosse (didn’t know Hopkins knew him) and Paul Theroux (gotta watch Saint Jack again).

That’s what makes a great book, we think. The reader loves it so much that he or she is constantly taking notes regarding future actions that will occur as a result of reading the book. And with this book, it seems to occur with irritating but satisfying regularity. And it’s only irritating because those damn blank pages are missing. Thanks go to Hopkins for writing this thought-provoking and entertaining title and to Tuttle for publishing it. Also, perhaps a swift kick to the rear of the latter for not including those Few Blank Pages…  Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Bangkok Fiction writers interviewed live by Keith Nolan

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 04•16

KeithNolanFingers1aKeith Nolan’s a hard guy to miss if you’re around the Bangkok music and writing scene. He’s at the sound board every Sunday afternoon for the jazz jam session at CheckInn 99 on Sukhumvit between Sois 5 and 7 (blink and you’ll miss it, and you’ll be sorry you did). He also has a regular gig as a blues keyboardist on Soi 23.

He’s a well-read, enthusiastic, and engaging interviewer as well, who’s cobbled together a terrific series of interviews with some of Bangkok’s leading literary lights, including novelists Dean Barrett and Christopher G. Moore, and cultural writer Jerry Hopkins. They’re all on YouTube, in long and short versions, and serve as a wonderful archival chronicle of the Bangkok expat literary scene.

In addition, he’s interviewed tenor sax player William Wait, a legendary figure in the Bangkok scene who’s played with more international jazz greats than anyone would believe.

Nolan’s interviews are well-produced, with a nice use of in-frame graphics. The musical vignettes occurring mid-interview are a bit jarring to our ears, but what the hell, Keith’s a musician. Digging under the surface, Nolan’s made it possible to see and hear some of these very important cultural figures discussing their work.

Here they are, take a look…

Between the Lines author interview series:

Dean Barrett, December, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRHaaJvKthM (8:32)

John Burdett, December, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fHxI3QwANo (14:34)

Christopher G. Moore, October, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXngJN-WrNQ (17:16)

James Newman, December, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0imsJfr9Dk (7:59)

Jim Newport, January, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ObFkuz7Ycs Here, a Hollywood set designer becomes an author of vampire novels based in Thailand. Newport also sings a blues song with Nolan accompanying him on Melodion (26:10)

Access All Areas author interview series:

Jerry Hopkins, August, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9O8dgc_GhwI With a VW bus in the background, Keith Nolan talks to writer Jerry Hopkins about his biographies of Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, meeting Jimi Hendrix, his life in Hawaii, and ladyboys. (13:05)

William Wait: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_paoJZDRuw Noland interviews Chris Catto-Smith, owner of the historical CheckInn99 club, and tenorman William Wait, who followed a monk to Thailand and has been here ever since. (8:13)

WoWasis book review ‘Burmese Light’ photo essay by Hans Kemp & Tom Vater

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 19•16

BurmeseLightCoverHere at WoWasis, we’re always interested in books on photography focusing on Asian countries, but have gotten to the point where large format coffee table sized books are creating a storage problem in our library. Because of that, they never get read beyond the first opening. We welcomed, therefore, photographer Hans Kemp and writer Tom Vater’s Burmese Light: Impressions of the Golden Land (2013, ISBN 978-962-85637-0-8), a handsomely printed smaller book of photos and text depicting a number of the elements that make Burma (Myanmar) one of Asia’s most impressive stops.

Kemp’s a wonderful photographer with an eye for the unusual (his earler book on Vietnamese motorbikes and everything they carry is remarkable), and here he explores everything from nats to thanaka to cheroots in a 200 page book featuring text by Tom Vater. Here are scenes from everyday life interspersed with temples, monks, and fish mongers. Curious Buddhist novices arch out of ancient carved windows shadowed in high relief at the Golden Palace Monastery as the sun peels away in the afternoon’s ebbing layers, a technique that Kemp uses again to magnificent effect in witnessing a monk steeping through the shadows and time-worn reliefs at Kothaung Pagoda.

KempHansInleLake1b

Inle Lake, photo by Hans Kemp

The book attempts to be inclusive rather than encyclopaedic, providing a snapshot of six geographical areas (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mrauk-U, the Irrawaddy) and nine social themes. Our favorite photos were those of Inle Lake, exploring a vibrant culture through striking photographs that are as worthy of a gallery exhibit as a book.

The book is meant to be used and shown, it’s bound and sewn well in Flexi-boards, and provides both a wonderful introduction to as well as a useable memoir of a country that is increasingly the focus of travelers seeking to explore a world less traveled. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

“Just go home and make another daughter!” Thai court officials tell murdered woman’s mother

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 13•16

KoTao1c-300x204Here at WoWasis, we’ve found that most murder stories in the Thai press have real gems buried deeply inside. But even we were shocked when unnamed Thai officials invoked their interpretation of Theravada Buddhism while making a helpful suggestion to the parents of noted crime victim Hannah Witheridge. According to the Bangkok Post, sister Laura Witheridge heard Thai officials telling her parents “Why are you here? Why do you care? She is dead already. Just go home and make another one [daughter]. She will be back in 30 days as something else, she may have better luck next time.”

While the Witheridges are contemplating making another daughter with better luck, we find ourselves asking: What will Hannah Witheridge come back as? Probably not a ladyboy, we think. Many Thais believe that ladyboys exist in this life because in a previous one they were adulterers. We don’t expect she’ll be a cockroach either, although just presently we can’t remember what previous peccadillo would engender that sort of transformation. Our bet is that Hannah’s family, if indeed they themselves have adopted the Buddhist philosophy, would probably take just about anything other than Hannah’s return as a Thai court official.

The Witheridge crime is probably the hottest one in Thailand these days. As we reported more than a year ago (see our story Four things you can do to avoid getting murdered on Koh Tao or any tropical island), Witheridge and her boyfriend, David Miller, were killed on the beach on the idyllic island of Ko Tao. Hannah was raped as well. Despite persistent rumors that the killing was done by the son of a prominent “influential” local family, two Burmese immigrants were found guilty of the crime. The DNA found on the alleged murder weapon, a hoe, could not be linked to either of the two suspects, according to Khunying Porntip Rojanasunan, former chief of the Central Institute of Forensic Science. The buzz, locally, in Thailand, and around the world, is that the two convicted men were innocents railroaded into confessing a crime they did not commit. Torture is alleged to have been a key to their confessions.

The Effects of Foreign Culture on Cambodian Culture

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 21•15

Today’s guest blogger is Bora Nikol, writing from Cambodia:

Culture reflects the entire image of any region or nation. How the people dress, what they eat, whom they worship and what they dislike are a few of the elements that collaborate to form the definition of culture. Cambodia, being a prominent country in Southeast Asia, is a rich mixture of colorful traditions and humble people that exhibit its unique essence.

CambodiaKaymu

Ravishing cultural factors of Cambodia

Cambodian culture has distinctive taste of religion, housing, clothing, birth and death rituals, art and sports. The Khmer Annual Day has been celebrated on the 9th of November each year since its independence from France in 1953. The people usually follow the traditions of their ancestors that were notably represented in past eras such as the Kingdom of Funan, the Kingdom of Chenla, and the Khmer Empire. The majority of Cambodians follow Buddhism, but others follow Christianity and Islam as well. Architectures of Cambodian houses are designed according to the carving of mythical creatures of their religions. Cambodians habitually wear the checkered scarf popularly known as Krama along with the customary garment called Sampot. Classic dances and theatrical celebrations are bright lights in the world of Cambodian art.

Positive impacts of foreign culture

Cambodians are often quick to embrace the latest technologies. Mobile phones, internet searches, and interactive shopping on sites such as Kaymu are three of the more important trends bringing advancements in Cambodia, adding convenience to the lives of its population. From a career perspective, they enable the new generation to get involved in the world of information technology.

Cambodians feel it is highly important to be aware of what is going around the world. The implementation of social media in Cambodian homes provides an additional awareness of world affairs and assists them in making personal judgments as to what they feel is good and bad for their country. Moreover, the environmental hazards like storms and change in weather are also easily predicted.

Negative impacts of foreign culture

Like other countries, Cambodia is in danger of forgetting the traditional spirit of her country. By the inclusion of foreign culture into Cambodia, people are more likely interested in the Western strategies to survive instead of what their ancestors followed. Food increasingly reflects the Western taste instead of its own delicious ingredients.

The young generation of Cambodia may be losing perspective on the sort of lives lived by the people of her past. From attire to accessories, much today has gained the color of West. Kids adore the Hollywood characters instead of religious figures. The Western dance styles are more common than the original classical form. Even the music that is played in markets or events is of Western composers and singers.

Whatever the scenario is, foreign culture has influenced Cambodia in both positive and negative ways. It is best to keep the balance and enjoy the concepts from the West while keeping Cambodian traditions alive and in the public eye.

Legendary Thai tourism official charged for corruption, now on hot seat

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 10•15

JuthamasSiriwanIn an event that many thought would never happen, former Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Juthamas Siriwan will be indicted for allegedly accepting Bt60 million in bribes, as reported by The Nation. She has been ordered to report to Thai authorities within two weeks.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has considered asking her to be extradited to face charges of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) after two Hollywood executives, Gerald and Patricia Green, were found guilty in 2009 of bribing her to the tune of $1.8 million USD to obtain Bangkok International Film Festival contacts, which allowed them to take over the festival from 2003 to 2006. According to prosecutors, she then steered contracts worth an estimated $14 million to the Greens, of which 10 to 20 percent were kicked back to Juthamas. These were laundered through banks in the United Kingdom, the Isle of Jersey, and Singapore. Her daughter Jittisopa Siriwan was also charged for participating in the scheme.

After a two and one-half week trial, the Greens were convicted of 19 counts, and sentenced to six months in prison and another six months of home confinement, primarily due to Gerald’s old age and ill heath, and Patricia’s role in caring for him. The U.S. DOJ indictment of Juthamas and her daughter are still pending, with extradition processes complicated by the fact that she was also being investigated by Thai authorities.

So now, what’s going to happen with Juthamas? Veteran Thailand legal proceeding watchers are wondering whether she will end up buying her way out of this one. If so, it’s going to be expensive, as she’ll also have to ensure that whatever the outcome, she isn’t extradited to the United States to face the charges levied against her.

Noose tightens on Thai press freedoms with press conference cancellation in Bangkok

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jun• 15•15

RiotPolicesBKK1a-300x286 - CopyPeople who thought things would be easier for members of Thailand’s domestic and foreign press after the coup of May, 2014 may be re-evaluating their positions. The NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order), who now runs the government, cancelled a discussion that was to be held at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCCT) on June 17. The topic was to be “Article 112: Its role in Thai society – A Panel Discussion about Article 112 and its role in Thai Society” (see the FCCT’s press release below).

We first reported in 2012 on the concerns surrounding Article 112, know familiarly as Lèse-Majesté Law, generally agreed to be among the most draconian press laws in any country. Its elements contain regulations relating to unlawful press activities, including reporting anything that could be construed to be critical of the Royal Family. As the law is applied, the interpretation is broad. For example, the Royal Family owns controlling interest in the Siam Cement Company, and therefore anything negative written about Siam Cement could legally result in a conviction and jail sentence under the law.

Earlier this year, we reviewed an important book, banned in Thailand, Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s ‘A Kingdom in Crisis,’ which describes the history and reinforcement of laws such as Article 112.

Since the law was imposed, numerous reporters have been detained by military authorities or jailed. Shortly after the coup, authorities urged all reporters working in Thailand to register with the Bangkok Police, after which they would receive green armbands so they might be better identified in civil disturbances by police and military personnel. Concerns were voiced that in effect, this would make it easier for authorities to arrest and prosecute members of the press. To date, we have seen nothing that would prove this concern to be untrue.

The Thai government’s war on the press continues unabated. Here is the FCCT’s press release on the cancellation:

STATEMENT BY THE FCCT ON THE NCPO’S ORDER TO CANCEL A DISCUSSION ON THE LÈSE MAJESÉ LAW

– June 15, 2007

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand regrets to announce that the planned discussion on Article 112 of the Criminal Code, or Lèse-Majesté Law, scheduled for 17 June 2015, has been cancelled, after a verbal order to do so was given by the NCPO, via the police.

The FCCT has now been told that if the event goes ahead, the military will come and seal off access to the Maneeya Centre, where the club is located. This is an unacceptable imposition on the many other tenants in the building, and it is with great regret that we have decided to cancel.

We received a letter last week from the police asking for our cooperation in cancelling the event, stating that the 112 event would sow disunity in Thai society, and encourage people to break the law and stir up unrest. We told them these fears were groundless, and declined their request.

The police informed us there were no regulations prohibiting us from proceeding. So we asked for a written order from the NCPO before we could justify cancelling the event. The NCPO has now told us they will not issue such a letter because they fear it would be used in the media to damage their image.
The FCCT has held many discussions on Article 112 in the past, and prides itself on being a forum for free debate, a role we have continued to play since last year’s military coup. Since then we have held a wide variety of events, some of which have given the military government full opportunity to argue in support of its plans for the country.

The use of Article 112 has long been controversial, and has increased markedly since the coup. We believe the law is a legitimate subject for discussion, not only for Thais, but also for foreigners who live or invest in Thailand. Our discussion would, we believe, have been constructive.

WoWasis book review: ‘On Holiday’ how your money is reaped by vacation companies

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 03•15

LofgrenOnHolidayEver wonder how the travel industry decides how to best take your money? To those of us here at WoWasis, it’s a fascinating topic. It’s not just about how that industry markets to us, either. It’s making sure that we like our vacation experiences enough that we’ll do it again and tell all our friends about it.

Author Orvar Lofgren exposes a lot about these topics in his fascinating On Holiday: A History of Vacationing (1999, ISBN 0-520-21767-5). There’s a lot of interesting categorization in the book, but two facets that keep popping up are travelers who like a little (or a lot) of adventure, with a certain amount of predictability, and those who want to relax and just not to have to think about anything beyond which pre-planned meal or event they’re going to next. As its title indicates, it’s a history book, but there’s lots to think about along the way. He covers everything from cottage vacations to resorts to cruises, waxing on the term “picturesque” as the foundation for most holiday stays and travel. There’s also the concept of “imagined nostalgia,” where you learn to miss the things you never had. Think in terms of sunsets and palm trees, and you get part of the picture.

Lofgren’s a good researcher and makes liberal use of thought-inspiring quotes from other writers, such as this one from writer Cleveland Amory on the evolution of the individual grand resorts:

Today’s resort old-timers believe firmly in a curious theory of resorts.
This theory is that, generally speaking, the following groups have come
to the social resorts in this order: first, artists and writers in search of
good scenery and solitude; second, professors and clergymen and other
so-called “solid people” with long vacations in search of the simple life;
third, “nice millionaires” in search of a good place for their children to
lead the simple life (as lived by the “solid people”); fourth, “naughty
millionaires” who wished to associate socially with the “nice million-
aires” but who built million-dollar cottages and million-dollar clubs,
dressed up for dinner, gave balls and utterly destroyed the simple life,
and fifth, trouble.

Small wonder that many art communities soon become unaffordable to artists. One of the more thought-provoking passages describes the packaging of today’s resorts, which now must combine a theme park, shopping mall, multimedia show, and hotel. For American major league baseball fans who complain that the jumbotron sound system is so loud that they can no longer talk to the person next to them, just look to Las Vegas. That’s the model being used in major league parks right now. It’s a 9 inning son-et-lumière experience. Baseball is merely the theme that supports the in-park shopping mall and the multimedia show, full of bombastically loud advertising.

AsiaPromoBannerFinally, the author investigates the changes brought to native towns and villages that become destinations for world travelers. Beaches are taken over by hotels, the native population makes a good living, and visitors are exotic curiosities. But when the destination is no longer “hot,” the hotels close, restaurants and shops go broke and jobs dry up. And the questions linger. Has our paradise been destroyed? Was it worth it? Where (if anywhere) do we go from here?

This book will cause every reader to linger over the history of vacationing, pause to reflect on its impact, and reflect on their own travel plans. The book’s a sleeper, well-documented and fascinatingly written. Highly recommended. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: ‘In Search of Robinson Crusoe’ (and it wasn’t Selkirk) by Tim Severin

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 28•15

SeverinCrusoeWe here at WoWasis reviewed Diana Souhami’s Selkirk’s Island: The True and Strange Adventures of the Real Robinson Crusoe a while back. It’s a great story about a compelling but unlikeable character, Alexander Selkirk, marooned alone for 52 months on an island in the Pacific. But as author Tim Severin discovered, Selkirk, while inspiring Daniel Defoe’s character, probably wasn’t his model. That honor would go to Henry Pitman.

Severin tells all in his book In Search of Robinson Crusoe (2002, ISBN 0-465-07698-X). The author is an adventurer/detective who’s written a number of books following up on famous voyages and land travels, and here he’s on the trail of Daniel Defoe’s Crusoe. He’s curious at first about Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned on Mas á Tierra island, west of Chile. But Defoe puts Crusoe on an island at the mouth of the Orinoco River, whose delta empties into the Caribbean in eastern Venezuela, a long way from the west coast of South America.

AsiaPromoBannerThe author follows leads, reads a prodigious amount of old material, hires boats and crews, and attempts to replicate the experiences of privateers, pirates, adventurers, and castaways. And finally, on the island of Salt Tortuga, within sight of the Venezuelan island of Margarita, he determines that ship’s doctor Henry Pitman, who wrote a short book, A relation of the great sufferings and strange adventures of Henry Pitman, Chirurgeon, in 1689, was, in fact, the prototype for Defoe’s Crusoe. Severin provides a compelling argument, an element of which concerns the fact that Defoe and Pitman used the same publisher. He surmises they might have met each other, although Defoe’s book was published in 1719, thirty years after Pitman’s.

Severin has an interesting writing style, and it takes getting used to. He swings back and forth between his own series of journeys and those of the individuals he’s investigating. The challenge for the reader is that each tale tends to lose momentum when it goes forward or backward in time. It’s therefore difficult to keep track of names, which would have been made easier with an index, which the book doesn’t have. A few maps would have been worthwhile, too. Severin takes us over what appears to be a wide swath of the Caribbean, and we here at WoWasis could very well relate to those centuries-old characters getting lost. We were lost right with them.

The whole thing ends up on an island called Salt Tortuga, where Pitman and his colleagues learned to live off the land and sea until he was chosen to tag along on a visiting ship. As a doctor, his talents were of value to the ship that picked him up. The others were left on the island, although temporarily.
It’s not easy to find much today about Salt Tortuga, even with the vast world of the internet at one’s fingertips. But the author, through his own experiences and the writing of Henry Pitman, makes it come alive. The book contains more than 300 pages of adventure and includes stories about others of the time, including Woodes Rogers, George Shelvocke, and Lionel Wafer, who were essential to Severin’s research and ultimately, to helping him determine that Henry Pitman was, indeed, his man.

We thoroughly enjoyed the book, and recommend it for readers that value adventure, a good detective story, and annals of the Caribbean. Keep a pencil handy so you can make notes in the blank pages at the end where the index should have been. With that, and perhaps some handy maps, your enjoyment of this very good book will be richly enhanced. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: ‘Escape from Camp 14’ a North Korean prison odyssey

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 26•15

Camp14In some corners of the world, it’s possible to be born in prison, live and work in prison, and die in prison. One’s entire existence is lived within those fences. And Shin In Geun was slated to be one of those, in North Korea. Against tremendous odds, he escaped his North Korean prison while in his twenties. It’s told in author Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West (2012, ISBN 978-0-670-02332-5). But as we see from the book, “freedom” is a relative term, and Shin, by the end of the story, still carries ghosts. Lots of them.

Shin parents were both prisoners. His parents were paired by prison authorities, allowed a brief time to procreate, then returned to their work groups, living separately. Love was never part of the equation. The boy grew up with camp rules, which encouraged snitching. Death sentences were instantly imposed on those who attempted to escape, and Shin ratted out his mother and older brother, who were executed before his eyes.

Along with another prisoner, Shin later escaped himself through an electric fence, climbing over the electrocuted dead body of his comrade. He then proceeded on a perilous journey, several hundred miles to the Chinese border. From China, he made his way to South Korea and then to the United States.

The tale is endlessly fascinating, from the minutiae of the prison camp to the struggles of somehow getting to China. Harden carries us through the intricacies of getting past the Chinese authorities to the South Korean consulate. He relates the adjustment issues of North Korean defectors in South Korea, everything from clothing to language to finding and succeeding in interpersonal relationships. There’s also a lot to learn about South Korea, for newly-arrived immigrants from the North. History, culture, and relative wealth are new concepts.

And in the U.S., where Shin lived as this book was written, his adjustment was ongoing.

The book is more than a tale of escape. It deals in clashing cultures, slave labor, and political truth sets. In terms of the escape, the several maps are helpful and necessary to understand the camp layout as well as the trek through North Korea. In terms of human emotions, though, it’s trickier. Shin remains wrestling with the concepts of love and understandably, relationships between parents and children. He’s left with contrasting feelings of guilt for contributing to the death of his mother and relief at his own survival. Since escapees’ families are routinely executed, Shin carries his father’s fate on his shoulders, too.

The book is at once compelling and challenging. It’s a roller-coaster of thought and emotion, leaving the reader somewhat satisfied with the fate of Shin, but thinking all along of the others who will never escape. Some do. Harden relates the story of former U.S. GI Charles Robert Jenkins, who crossed the border into North Korea, participated in propaganda programs, and married a Japanese woman who had been kidnapped from a Japanese beach. Through the efforts of Japanese diplomats, they were eventually taken to Japan.

This book is a thriller all the way through and a staple for every reader interested in what goes on beyond the scenes and under the spy satellites in the nation of North Korea. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.