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The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  237 ratings  ·  36 reviews
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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published December 20th 2016 by Pegasus Books
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Average rating 3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  237 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
We’re introduced to our protagonist as he’s being held in New York for murder. He’s got a rap sheet that finds him wanted by Interpol for drug smuggling, money laundering, mass murder, stock manipulation and spying for his North Korean home. If that’s not enough, he’s found at the murder scene, blood on his hands, covering the room in strange symbols.

An interrogator is brought in to unravel how a North Korean ended up traversing the world to end up in New York. It’s here we find that Gilmo has A
John Armstrong
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korean-genre
An interesting riff on the Odyssey in which Odysseus and Penelope both start at Troy and journey to Ithaca on parallel paths which join and separate and then join again. The pair are two teenagers, Gil-mo and Yong-ae. Troy is a North Korean prison camp where they have both been sent off to with their fathers, who have run afoul of the regime for different reasons both involving books (Gilmo’s father for having a Bible, Yong-ae’s for fraudulent accounting). Ithaca is the West – a place that is de ...more
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
A novel that wants to be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime meets In Order to Live meets the TV show White Collar but that ends up falling flat.

It's hard to know where to begin when reviewing this novel. Our protagonist, a North Korean maths genius with Aspergers Syndrome, is found next to a North Korean man who has been murdered. The novel is told in a series flashbacks. We see him as a young boy in North Korea attending a very good school as he has been noticed for his savant-li
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-korea
If I could've given this 3.5 stars I would have simply because the concept is very interesting. There simply aren't many mysteries out these about teenage defectors with aspergers syndrome from North Korea who travel through Seoul, Macau, Shanghai, Mexico, and finally America while running drugs, being an accountant for the mob, being a proxy in a high stakes card game for wealthy Saudis, manipulating the stock market, and other seemingly implausible things in a short period of time.
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This starts with a person with Asperger's being interrogated for murder in America, with the classic setup of a mystery. But rather than being a mystery it is the tale of the our protagonist, a young North Korean teenager who finds himself in a North Korea prison, escapes and travels and has adventures in Macau and Shanghai on his way to South Korea, following, or perhaps stalking, a childhood friend whose face has the golden ratio. It isn't clear if his fascination is mathematical or sexual, or ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise, is a story of probability, luck, chance, whatever you want to call it, you just have believe in it because believing is part of "seeing". Some stories are so unbelievable; in that perhaps miracles don't exist; that good things never come true; that the dead may never be free; that there's no stars in the vast open night sky. Whether its true or not, it doesn't matter because all you have to believe that it did. There's nothing wrong with believing that miracles do e ...more
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: asian
I think this book was meant for a very particular audience. Those who love numbers, puzzles, and authors who write in a stream of consciousness type style, this is the read for you.

I had read this book thinking this was going to focus more on the living conditions in North Korea, or maybe the thought process of someone living in the poverty-stricken, dictator led country, but what I got was more a collection of thoughts and scenes from a boy's both seemingly unlucky and lucky life. You get a gli
Aug 16, 2017 rated it liked it
After first few chapters I hoped I will rate this book 5. Close to the end I considered 2.
First chapters - life in North Korea. I read a good number of books about German concentration camps and Soviet Gulags, I met and listened to many survivors. In this context I valued the book very high.
Things go astray when the boy escapes and moves to the free world - China, Macau, South Korea, Switzerland. For some time it was not so bad - it occurred to me that everywhere there are powers able and willi
Martin Roth
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Review from Asia Thrills -

“The Boy Who Escaped Paradise,” released in 2016, is the second of best-selling South Korean author Jung-Myung Lee’s novels to be published in English translation. “The Investigation” appeared a year earlier.

It tells the story of Gil-mo, a mathematics genius with Asperger syndrome, who has been raised in North Korea. Thanks to his talents, his family live in relative comfort, until his father is discovered to be a secret Christia
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I clearly did not read the synopsis of this book right, because it was absolutely not what I was expecting - but in a good way! This book has a definite 'Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime' vibe which I was not expecting, but wasn't necessarily bad. It was a book that I didn't really want to put down - I always wanted to read one more chapter just to see if we'd learn anymore information to figure out the murder that opened the book. It kept interest by constantly introducing a new cri ...more
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This book started out by going in some unexpected/ unpredictable directions. As it went on, there were some cliched elements, and also I felt like the character was a little overly savant (like, in one moment he doesn't really understand other people's emotions, and in the next chapter he's developing a whole plan of action based on a sophisticated analysis of other people's body language). Still, I really enjoyed the action and I liked the twist at the end. (view spoiler) ...more
Olwyn Ducker
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I received this from a Goodreads giveaway .
A young boy with Autism lives his life through numbers from child to adulthood he struggles to make sense of a world that is strange to him, he has one true love a girl that was in the prison camp that he and his father were taken to when he was young.
The book starts off in North Korea and after his escape travels through many countries in search of the girl he met in the camp
Very worth reading, a lovely book
Apart from all the maths it was a lovely ea
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
The protagonist is largely driven by his affection for order- especially through the lens of mathematics. Mentioned in the authors note, Gödel, Ester, Bach was a leading influence on the strutting of the novel, and the oscillations of repeated conflict can be easily understood in these highly structured forms.

I would consider the book a 3.5, but the resolution was quite satisfying to me- which sang reminiscently to some of my favorite works of Bach. While sometimes slow, the structure is beauti
Susan Ely
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book a was a delightful quick read that kept me turning pages and anxious for more. The way the story unfolds is engaging, interesting and very effective for moving the plot along multiple timelines. The characters are well developed and interesting. As a mother of a child on the spectrum, the story telling of his interactions with others and how he thinks was telling of Aspergers and endearing. Well worth the read and I will look for more by this author.
Jennifer Sigman
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, 2017-new
This is a wonderfully complicated, beautifully translated book. We spend time in North Korea, various parts of China, South Korea, Mexico, and the United States. Jim Lee turns a very critical and detailed eye to everything until you feel the starvation, the misery, and the confusion of a young man who cannot understand the worlds he gets thrust in to. By the end, you are left wondering how much was real. Highly recommended.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
A truly improbable story, though as the plucky narrator would try to prove with some math theorem not impossible at all. Told in a poetic manner, mixing science and math amid a war torn, capitalist backdrop. Last 50 pages tried to wrap things up too quickly.
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
The math. Oh, the math.

I put this book on hold in January and it finally came in. I couldn’t wait to read it. I loved the story. Really really loved it but there was so. much. math. Honestly, I knocked two stars off for it.
Sherry Dorman
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting look into the struggles of defectors from North Korea and what lengths people will go to to escape horrible human abuses...not to mention the inner workings of the brain of a Savant...a sweet love story underlies the drama of the mystery of the murder.
Jan 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Although based on true stories and scenarios, this fictional story overachieved its goal of an interesting and engaging story. I was disappointed in the end that it was not a real story and I'm not sure what to think about that. I will be thinking about this story for quite a while. ...more
Alysan Rouse
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked this book,but I found all of the math, probability, and symmetry talk confusing. That's why t gets only 3 stars. ...more
Hannah Laura Parker
I really, really liked the first two-thirds of this book, but something about the end fell a bit flat to me - it felt rushed and a little disjointed compared to the rest.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A lot of math...I did feel smarter reading it though! And all I can say is well played...well played
Anton Prosser
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-books
I loved the unfolding and the memories! This made me want to read more by this author.
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I agree with another poster here, wish I had the option of 3.5 stars. Love the way math and numbers were incorporated into this story. I'm recommending my teacher friends share this book with those students who are excited by number puzzles. ...more
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Well ... sorta ... definitely different.
Katie - Girl About Library
This review, and many more like it, can be found on my blog Girl About Library

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...

"The Boy Who E
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Phenom mind on this kid-yowza!! it was all about how numbers can explain ANYthing ( & they did!)
error p.65 ('the fell off tall structures...- how about THEY fell off??)
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Definitely interesting. But maybe not quite as interesting as the initial premise makes you think it will be.
Marilee Steffen
A young North Korean boy with Asperger's is sent to a political prison along with his father who was accused of being a Christian. Gilmo's condition allows him to use numbers to navigate the world he inhabits. While in prison he made his one and only friend, a beautiful young girl named Yong-ae. They escape to South Korea and using using Gilmo's skills, begin their quest for money and freedom. Separated from his only friend, the boy is determined to find her, a journey that takes him to Macau, S ...more
Jayon Park
Oct 28, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The first half of the book seemed believable and interesting as the main character interpreted his surroundings as mathematical/ systematic equations. (the story made sense)

However, the second half was loosely held together by a series of highly unlikely coincidences (joining a drug smuggling business, winning jackpots at casinos, avoiding the North Korean guards while obtaining a high profile, joining an illegal scam operation in Korea, being able to travel to numerous countries without being e
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Lee Jung-myung (이정명) has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his books in his native Korea. One, Deep Rooted Tree, was made into a popular TV series. ...more

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