The Invitation-Only Zone by Robert S. Boynton
The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

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Boynton connects the abduction project to the evolution of the relationship between Japan and both Koreas, digging into the pain the peninsula experienced as a colony of Japan for nearly four decades until the end of World War II.
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

A bizarre, little-known tale about the most secretive culture on earth

For decades, North Korea denied any part in the disappearance of dozens of Japanese citizens from Japan’s coastal towns and cities in the late 1970s. But in 2002, with his country on the brink of collapse, Kim Jong-il admitted to the kidnapping of thirteen people and returned five of them in hopes of receiving Japanese aid. As part of a global espionage project, the regime had attempted to reeducate these abductees and make them spy on its behalf. When the scheme faltered, the captives were forced to teach Japanese to North Korean spies and make lives for themselves, marrying, having children, and posing as North Korean civilians in guarded communities known as “Invitation-Only Zones”—the fiction being that they were exclusive enclaves, not prisons.

From the moment Robert S. Boynton saw a photograph of these men and women, he became obsessed with their story. Torn from their homes as young adults, living for a quarter century in a strange and hostile country, they were returned with little more than an apology from the secretive regime.

In The Invitation-Only Zone, Boynton untangles the bizarre logic behind the abductions. Drawing on extensive interviews with the abductees, Boynton reconstructs the story of their lives inside North Korea and ponders the existential toll the episode has had on them, and on Japan itself. He speaks with nationalists, spies, defectors, diplomats, abductees, and even crab fishermen, exploring the cultural and racial tensions between Korea and Japan that have festered for more than a century.

A deeply reported, thoroughly researched book, The Invitation-Only Zone is a riveting story of East Asian politics and of the tragic human consequences of North Korea’s zealous attempt to remain relevant in the modern world.

 

About Robert S. Boynton

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Robert S. Boynton's journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the author of The New New Journalism and directs the Literary Reportage program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.
 
Published January 12, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 289 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel, War. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Invitation-Only Zone
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good
on Sep 03 2015

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.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Sheila Miyoshi Jager on Jan 15 2016

...Robert S. Boynton, a journalism ­professor at New York University, gives us a riveting portrait of these bizarre kidnappings, but offers few clues as to what this project was all about.

Read Full Review of The Invitation-Only Zone: The... | See more reviews from NY Times

Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Evan Ramstad on Jan 30 2016

Boynton connects the abduction project to the evolution of the relationship between Japan and both Koreas, digging into the pain the peninsula experienced as a colony of Japan for nearly four decades until the end of World War II.

Read Full Review of The Invitation-Only Zone: The... | See more reviews from Star Tribune

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