Publisher: Cargo Publishing | Publication date: 2nd April 2015 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)
Pyongyang, North Korea, 2011. In a city full of lies one man seeks the truth. In Kim Jong-il s North Korea, Han, a lonely guide to foreign tourists, is rapidly ascending the party ranks and appears to be a model citizen. But when he is drawn into a secret underground book group by the enigmatic Mae, Han knows that in a country ruled by fear and suspicion – where lovers and neighbours denounce each other – it is only a matter of time before his double life is discovered by the ruthless Party elite. With no one else to turn to, he must do the unthinkable: risk his life by putting his trust in two undercover Western journalists trying to expose the regime, before the brutal realities of North Korean life catch up with him.
I’m so insignificant, sometimes when I get up in the morning and look in the mirror I don’t expect to see myself there.
Those words caused me to pause and hold my breath momentarily. This sentence conveys the candid despair the author has generated throughout this book.
Living under a dictatorship, Han’s remote existence in North Korea would seem inexplicable to the outside world where we have every freedom, including owning our choice of literature and not having a narrow selection imposed upon us.
Absolutely nothing we take for granted exists in the world Han lives in, being unable to speak his mind and living in constant fear of being reported to the authorities for doing so. The entire population is looking over its shoulder; while trying to convince their neighbour of their loyalty to the party and their ‘Glorious Leader’, another neighbour is enduring starvation. Yet suffering is kept under wraps by a controlling government to convince outsiders that all is rosy.
The fragile relationships that are forged by ministry official Han with his own neighbour, Mae, and the foreign journalists posing as ‘tourists’ – English Ben and American Hal, were perfectly honed. Han is confident in his work as a guide to the foreign tourists visiting his country, yet nervous of his emotions. As his character evolves, he’s learns to trust people for the first time since the death of his parents, and also to love.
With every word capturing the essence of fear and control, The Limits of the World offers a powerful snapshot of a place where no one would dare volunteer to carry the torch of hope. That is, until a ‘compliant’ citizen grasps the courage to dream and expose the awful truth, whatever the consequences.
This story is one that will stay with me. Memorable and highly recommended.
(My thanks to the publisher for providing a paperback copy of this book for review.)