Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise - by J.M. Lee - Book Review

Flipping through channels or scrolling through Netflix, few things stop me faster than a documentary or news story about North Korea. I'm not sure when I first became so intrigued by North Korea, but this frightening, mysterious, and fascinating place captures both my attention and imagination.  I was immediately intrigued after reading the description for "The Boy Who Escaped Paradise" by Chi J.M. Lee...


An unidentified body is discovered in New York City, with numbers and symbols written in blood near the corpse. Gil­mo, a North Korean national who interprets the world through numbers, formulas, and mathematical theories, is arrested on the spot. Angela, a CIA operative, is assigned to gain his trust and access his unique thought-process.

The enigmatic Gil­mo used to have a quiet life back in Pyongyang. But when his father, a preeminent doctor is discovered to be a secret Christian, he is subsequently incarcerated along with Gilmo, in a political prison overseen by a harsh, cruel warden.

There, Gilmo meets the spirited Yeong-ae, who becomes his only friend. When Yeong-ae manages to escape, Gil­mo flees to track her down. He uses his peculiar gifts to navigate betrayal and the criminal underworld of east Asia—a world wholly alien to everything he's ever known.

In The Boy Who Escaped Paradise, celebrated author J. M. Lee delves into a hidden world filled with vivid characters trapped by ideology, greed, and despair. Gilmo's saga forces the reader to question the line between good and evil, truth and falsehood, captivity and freedom.

"The Boy Who Escaped Paradise" reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire meets Forrest Gump, two excellent stories, with an intriguing setting in North Korea. As a reader, it was easy to see what the author was trying to do and I was really rooting for him because the concept for the story is incredibly interesting.

The main character, Gilmo, understands the world around him through mathematical principals- personally, I understand the world through anything but math, so following the main character's principals and logic was tough, even with sound explanations. More confusing than the math itself, was how the main character even obtained all of this knowledge. Gilmo's formal education would obviously have been a huge part of his life, but little of it is mentioned in the book. While it is easy to agree that Gilmo is brilliant, it was incredibly difficult as I read to just accept that someone in Gilmo's position would know the names of all of these mathematical principals.

There were several moments where I really enjoyed the author's use of math to understand his surroundings. I was particularly struck by his use of math to determine how long he and his fellow workers had been at the prison camp:
" I started to think of a formula that calculated the length of someone's stay at a prison camp from the number of remaining joints on his hands."
I really wanted to like this book, the plot and characters seemed so intriguing and I have a deep interest in the setting - but I just didn't enjoy it. I think there were several reasons why "The Boy Who Escaped Paradise" wasn't very enjoyable for me- but the bulk of it I am crediting to the translation. There were many awkwardly worded moments that just fell flat for me. I was taken completely out of the story by this, and when I look back on my notes that feeling appears again and again. In this same vein, huge plot points were dropped with no build up or explanation for the reader. These moments that should have been so important to the book, left me confused and disappointed.

North Korea is still fascinating to me and, for that alone if you are interested in that location as well, this a good read. The author included many  details about life in North Korea and the dangers after leaving North Korea as a refuge in Asia and America.

Interested in reading this book? Click here to find a copy at your local library or visit the link below to view the book on Amazon. Have you read "The Boy Who Escaped Paradise"? What did you think about the book? Let me know below! What are some settings that have intrigued you enough to make you pick up a book?

Many thanks to Pegasus Books for providing me with an early copy of this for me to read. As a girl who is "about the library", where books are always free, know that all opinions are my own.


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