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The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  455 ratings  ·  61 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 12th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Louise
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: north-korea
I was riveted, but not because this is a great book. It is an OK book. It was the topic that pulled me in. With the exception of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power there is more information on North Korea’s policy of abductions here than I have seen anywhere else. Unfortunately the story of the abductions and abductees is sandwiched in with loosely related issues.

After an enticing Prologue
...more
Kathy Wang
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Subject matter was interesting but was not written in a particularly engaging manner.
Did appreciate the historical background that Boynton gave about the development of Korean-Japanese relations, but by interspersing this material between the accounts of the abductees, he broke up the narrative in a way that became distracting.

Given that this subject matter doesn't have that much material on it (the abductees are either dead or don't wish to speak on the matter), I wish Boynton hadn't tried to
...more
Gayla Bassham
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another book to feed my obsession with North Korea. This is an account of North Korea's official abduction program. Yes, as part of official state policy, North Korea was kidnapping foreign nationals and forcing them to live in North Korea, where they worked as translators and helped train spies. The story that this book tells is fascinating and heartbreaking. I wasn't wild about the presentation, though; Boynton alternates between presenting the point of view of one abducted Japanese man, Kaoru ...more
Ownbymom Ownby
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Like many other reviewers, I found the title a bit deceptive, since much more is covered than the DPRK's abduction project. By Chapter 2 I was losing interest except that.....also like other reviewers....I have developed a fascination with North Korean history, etc. In the end, the reader learns about the abduction project, but also how it fits in the larger scheme of North Korean (and Japanese) history. Without understanding that, the project itself would sound even more unbelievable than it al ...more
Tim Baker
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
While this is an interesting topic, North Korea's program to kidnap people to turn them into spies, I felt the jumping around from detailing the overarching program to focusing on a few individual victims didn't really work well. The biggest flaw this book has is that it straddles a lot of angles it can go without choosing one direction and doing it well.
Fmartija
Jun 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, korea, 2016
This book is what I consider a high level narrative of the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, and the subsequent experiences of these abducted Japanese citizens. I say 'high level' because Robert Boynton uses multiple chapters to step away from the actual narrative of the abductions themselves to provide side bar discussion on Japanese culture and history in order give the reader some context on the complicated relationship between Japan and its neighbors. During some of these sideb ...more
Holly
May 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting but a bit repetitive. For real enthusiasts!
Michael Malice
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
MUST READ, one particular chapter will bring to your eyes. Every time I think I've wrapped my head around north Korea's evil, I learn of yet more depravity.
Jos M
Fascinating exploration of North Korea's Abduction project, by interviewing kidnap victims. This is a sad and strange story, and Boynton humanises the individuals caught in the machinations of dictatorial state. As well, Boynton thoughtfully explores the sheer weirdness of the North Korea state and state policy within the greater context of the relationship between Japan and Korea as a whole. It is impossible to understand the reasoning behind the abduction program without looking at the experie ...more
Sebastian Song
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A most commendable effort by Robert. Though he is unable to reveal the reason for the abduction, a feat probably no one could especially since the passing of the two Kims, he kept the reader engaged about the lives of complete strangers. The epilogue is a must read, a wonderful conclusion to a history of nations, cultures and people.
Basma
A very interesting subject matter, but the way it was written and presented wasn’t for me.

There was a lot of additional material presented that didn’t seem to add much to the main subject matter other than it happening around that time, and I didn’t get the connection. Nor the connection of a few historical information that he adds in between.

[Around the world pick for North Korea.]
Joe C.
Jan 11, 2016 rated it liked it
After encouragement from the author, I decided to give the book another go. As I suspected from early on in the book, this isn't solely about the abduction program, but more about the tumultuous relationship/history between North Korea and Japan. There is still a lot of good info in the book that I haven't seen talked about before. A lot of books on the market are from escapees, who were in the lower classes of North Korea. This book shows you the more privileged side of NK through the eyes of a ...more
Megan
Jan 26, 2016 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
Less about the abductions themselves (which is good, given how much is and would have to be speculative) and more about the abductions in the context of Japanese-Korean (Japanese-North Korean, specifically) modern-day history; not knowing much about that context, I found the book easy to read, informative, and engaging.
Heidi Baird
Mar 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Fascinating and horrifying that North Korea has kidnapped so many people over the years. I learned a lot about Asia's history in the 20th century--particularly how Japan was able to make technological advances while other nearby countries languished in poverty.
Gaelen
Apr 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
For people who are weirdly obsessed with North Korea, as I am, this is a fascinating account of one of the DPRK's stranger chapters: Its complicated plan to abduct foreigners, many from the shores of Japan.
Jeremy
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: north-korea
Interesting and well written. It has more historical background about the relationship between Korea and Japan than I expected. It has less information about the abduction project and abductees than I was hoping for; I imagine that is still tough info to get. Still, it was very interesting.
Jeanne
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary book of in-depth reporting on the abduction of hundreds of Japanese by the North Koreans. Includes historical background and cultural history of both Japan and Korea. Fascinating.
Kayla
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was amazing.
Bagus Anugerah Yoga
An outstanding work of journalism in North Korea!

This book encompasses the missing pieces of history of post-war Japan and North Korea. To understand the background behind the abductions of Japanese citizens by the North Korean government, ones have to look back into Japan shortly after the Meiji Restoration. “Race” is an alien concept in most of Asian culture, including Japan, before the European colonisation happened. This concept of “race” will be central to the explanation in thi
...more
Heather
Apr 09, 2019 rated it liked it
This book has an identity crisis: is it a creative non-fiction biography about Japanese people who were kidnapped by North Korean operatives in the 1960's and 1970s? Is it an expansive history book about Japanese-Korean relations? Is it an op-ed about the cultural differences and similarities between two nuanced Asian cultures? Is it the personal story of a curious journalist who spent a decade researching a question he just couldn't get out of his mind?

Unfortunately, it tries to be
...more
William Chan
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a young couple walks on the beachside in dim light, they are captured by people dressed in black. Very confused and worried, they get thrown on to a ship, were lies many unknown people. During the 1970s to 1980s, people living in Japan were captured and sent to North Korea to be used as translators, teachers, and also as spies for Japan. They couldn't refuse and were forced to do these things. They would isolate the couples and people from any type of communication, and be told to learn 'Juch ...more
Owen Townend
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love a random educational opportunity!
I picked this up while shelving at one of the libraries that I work at and realised that North Korea was a bizarre subject that I really wanted to know more about.
Being thoroughly Westernised, I had little idea of Japan's colonisation of its neighbouring countries let alone that it is partially responsible for the Korean divide. However this obviously did not justify the abduction of so many Japanese decades later.
While all of their st
...more
Izzy
North Korea is deeply fascinating to me. It is nearly impossible to travel to North Korea as a tourist or journalist, and if you somehow manage to do so, you will most certainly not be left alone and you will have to follow all the instructions to the T. Student groups who visited found themselves in deep trouble when they roamed around alone when they where instructed not to.
I heard about the abduction project before, though I knew absolutely nothing about it. This book does a good job to expl
...more
Jenni
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-koreas
Really interesting topic! I can't say I knew anything about North Korea's practice of abductions and there aren't too many books written on the subject. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in this one.

This was a well written bit of research into the abductions of Japanese citizens, stolen to North Korea to be trained as spies or to be used as pawns in the regime's games against Japan. Over the course of several decades, it is thought that nearly 250 kidnappings took place - Japanese men, women
...more
Adam
Jul 12, 2017 rated it liked it
With such an interesting and complex subject matter, I was really disappointment to leave this book with so much apathy. Boynton’s historical research is vast and comprehensive, but I feel mislead by the book’s title. Maybe I’m a cynic, but I wanted more kidnappings, I wanted more grit, I wanted to follow victims and survivors from start to finish with enough detail to feel I was there. Never once was I on the edge of my seat reading this book, and instead of hearing heart-wrenching stories or l ...more
Bridget
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This book starts out a bit unevenly, alternating between a grand explanation of Japanese racial theories and the history of the DPRK. Eventually it turns its full attention to abductions of Japanese people by North Korea and that's when things get BONKERS. Each chapter is more jaw-dropping than the last! But it's all thoroughly grounded in its historical context (see: those first chapters I mentioned, which seem out of place but anchor the whole book and are dang interesting, to boot) and it is ...more
Norb Korb
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katja
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-english
The book's title is slightly misleading: while the abductions and the people affected by them are in the core of the narrative, there's so much more here than just stories about abductees or the program itself. And I found that nice because I'm interested in history and relations between Asian countries. There's a lot of history of Japan here, so it's not only about North Korea really. The chapters about history give the abductions some context and meat around the bones of the book. Obviously so ...more
Jennifer
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
I already knew (very generally)about the abductions from media reporting, and this book didn't add a great deal of factual information to that previous knowledge. However, this book made the abstract knowledge feel real and human and filled in details that news reports tend to skim over. The relationship these abductions had to broader Japanese - Korean relations (North and South) was intriguing and has definitely sparked my interest to read more about imperial Japan.

This book was eminently rea
...more
Vicky
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book opens a window into the most secretive regime on earth - the communist North Korea. THis is a story of people being abducted from Japan and other countries and replanted into the gated zones in the North. For decades the world refused to acknowledge that they existed. The history of Japan and Korea is a history of ongoing wars, colonisation and political tension. The abductee project was an ugly consequence of twisted ideology that justify the most cruel behaviour towards the human fre ...more
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