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Your Republic Is Calling You

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A foreign film importer, Gi-yeong is a family man with a wife and daughter. An aficionado of Heineken, soccer, and sushi, he is also a North Korean spy who has been living among his enemies for twenty-one years. Suddenly he receives a mysterious email, a directive seemingly from the home office. He has one day to return to headquarters. He hasn't heard from anyone in over ten years. Why is he being called back now? Is this message really from Pyongyang? Is he returning to receive new orders or to be executed for a lack of diligence? Has someone in the South discovered his secret identity? Is this a trap?

Spanning the course of one day, Your Republic Is Calling You is an emotionally taut, psychologically astute, haunting novel that reveals the depth of one particularly gripping family secret and the way in which we sometimes never really know the people we love. Confronting moral questions on small and large scales, it mines the political and cultural transformations that have transformed South Korea since the 1980s. A lament for the fate of a certain kind of man and a certain kind of manhood, it is ultimately a searing study of the long and insidious effects of dividing a nation in two.

326 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2006

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About the author

Kim Young-ha

35 books462 followers
Kim Young-ha is the author of seven novels, including the acclaimed I Have the Right to Destroy Myself and Black Flower - and five short story collections.

He has won every major Korean literature award, and his works have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He lives in Seoul, South Korea.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 223 reviews
August 8, 2020
Admittedly, I must be somewhere among the world's least fans of Korean & Japanese fiction: they tend to be all over the place and mostly make me feel like I'm on the verge of developing a major case of Tourette's (which should be impossible). This one's managed to entangle me into its captive readership. Somehow.

Love the cover. It's so injumane, it could be about robots.

Their grief had to be easier to witness than their disappointment. She tried to strangle herself with her hands. (c)
He will have to go from an existence surrounded by books to one made up of walls. (c)
He didn't have the confidence or the courage to resist or reject change. (c)
What happened to the man betrayed both by the revolution and Armageddon? (c)
April 28, 2021

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YOUR REPUBLIC IS CALLING YOU grabbed me with its unique premise. It's about a man named Ki-yong (weirdly called "Gi-yeong" in the book's blurb-- you'd think the transliteration would be consistent across the same edition, but no?) who is a securely middle class Korean man who works in the film industry. He's also a North Korean sleeper agent. One day, he receives a coded message informing him that his duties are over and that he must return home.

It's told through multiple POVs, all within a 24-hour period, so as Ki-yong tries to figure out what to do, we also see the story narrated from a coworker of Ki-young, his wife, Ma-ri, their young daughter, their daughter's teacher, and a couple others I forgot. There are a lot of moving pieces in this story and it ends up kind of being an interesting portrait of middle-class life in South Korea, in addition to being a sort of surreal spy thriller.

I liked the beginning a lot but I felt like it lost steam in the second half. I actually ended up skimming because I didn't really care about some of the POVs and they ended up feeling more like filler. I bought this copy for myself but it turns out I've also read another book by this author that I received as an ARC, which was called DIARY OF A MURDERER, and it shares some of the same problems I had with this book in that the author has some great ideas but sometimes he applies himself to them inconsistently, and they end up not really working out because things get either (1) too weird or (2) too boring.

I guess I was hoping for more danger and suspense instead of a sort of Desperate Housewives situation with affairs and domestic drama.

2.5 to 3 stars
Profile Image for Meaghan.
1,096 reviews25 followers
October 26, 2010
I started out this book with serious doubts. The description looked really good but I had read a previous book by the author and hated it -- honestly it was one of the worst books I've read in my entire life. But I thought I'd give this a go, and just give up if I didn't like it. I'm glad I read it because it was excellent. It's a spy story, but it's more than just a thriller. All the characters have depth and texture.

The entire novel takes place over the course of one day in the lives of Ki-Yong, his wife Ma-Ri and their teenage daughter Hyon-Mi. They are an ordinary South Korean family: Hyon-Mi is a high-achieving student in high school, Ma-Ri sells cars and Ki-Yong is a film importer. However, problems lie underneath the surface: both Ki-Yong and Ma-Ri are secretly seeing other people. Oh, and Ki-Yong is actually a North Korean spy who just got recalled to the motherland.

The hours pass and the viewpoint shifts from character to character, and the tension rises. I didn't want to stop, in a hurry to learn what happened next. The ending wrapped up pretty well, and I also learned a great deal about society in North and South Korea. The only real problem I had with the book is that sometimes, when talking about the aforementioned society and history of the two Koreas, the author sounded a little too didactic. But it wasn't a big deal.

If Young-Ha Kim continues to put out books like this, he will regain my full confidence.
Profile Image for Casey (Myshkin) Buell.
113 reviews8 followers
May 3, 2013
Ki-yong is a North Korean spy who's been living as a sleeper in Seoul for the past 21 years. After 10 years of no contact he's suddenly given the order to liquidate everything and return to the North in the next 24 hours. But this is not a spy novel. If you're looking for a thriller packed with action and international intrigue look elsewhere. In fact, the spy angle is more a metaphor than anything else; we are all spies, all double agents, in one way or another. This is a novel about life and change, and the way it all seems to just sneak up on us. Ki-yong has grown comfortable in his assumed life in the South; his handlers have forgotten about him, he has a wife and daughter who don't know his secret, he enjoys his work, and has settled into a mundane existence. What was once an assumed persona is now the real man; what was once the real man in now a fading memory. But now the order to return has come down he has a decision to make, and ideals to reexamine. Does he still believe in the Socialist Paradise, does the revolutionary desire still burn in him, does he stay or does he go "home"? Meanwhile his wife, Ma-ri, struggles with her own moral decisions. Bored with her humdrum life, distanced from her secretive husband, she has taken a young lover who pushes her to do things she's not sure she's willing to do. And their daughter, Hyun-mi, has her own story to tell. On the surface her struggles seem like typical shallow teenage stuff, but they serve to highlight the theme of choice, and how our choices, big and small, affect us in ways we could never guess. The blurb on the front compares Kim Young-ha to Haruki Murakami, which is something I generally dislike seeing. Not because I dislike Murakami, but because it seems that every East Asian writer is automatically compared to him. However, in this instance I think the comparison is apt. Don't expect any fantastical elements, Kim is firmly ground in reality, but his tone and prose style are reminiscent of Murakami, and he deals with similar themes of isolation, anonymity, and division. Your Republic Is Calling You is a great novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for modern Korean lit.
Profile Image for Jason Brown (Toastx2).
328 reviews17 followers
January 29, 2019
I imagine being a sleeper agent is a lot like crashing a drunken party. You walk in the door, pretending to be invited. You eat a couple chips and drink a beer. You join conversations and chat with people, avoiding specific conversation topics but not really holding back. ultimately the consequence of your actions may be discovery and ejection from the party. Depending on the climate of the group, you could be offered to stay, or you could be painfully beat to the ground, you could simply be ignored going forward.

I have trouble thinking about being a spy, let alone a sleeper agent. Coming to a country, melding myself with the culture, people, and policies but knowing full well that I did not belong. building relationships, having a family, working a job that ultimately may need to be shed like a second skin and left behind.

Young-Ha Kim’s “Your Republic Is Calling You” was an incredibly fascinating read. Ki-Yong imports movies from other countries. He is moderately successful South Korean businessman and enjoys life for the most part. He met his wife in college where they were both political dissidents. They have a teenage daughter who is well liked. They have their share of family concerns, but overall, things are going well.

The novel covers the full scope of a single day from the perspective of Ki-Yong’s family. Ki-Yong heads to work with a throbbing headache, and receives a coded message via email. He is a sleeper agent for the North Korean government. He came south as a spy during his college years, but lost contact with the north after a regime change. Ki-Yong has been given 24 hours to close out any open business he has, cover his tracks and disappear. A mini-sub will take him back north in the morning.

I have to wonder how I would react in a situation like this? The love for my wife and child would be legitimate, even if my name and history would be false. If I were to stay, the North could send down an assassin to clean me. If I leave, I lose the life i built and the world i have grown accustomed to… I do not think I could make the choice..

This book was very visually and emotional ambiguous. Portions were self destructive/hopeful, calm yet disconcerting. In the end, it was an excellent view into the New South Korean culture, very different in the last 20 years from how it was when the UN was assisting during the Korean War.

Profile Image for Lammoth.
249 reviews30 followers
April 23, 2017
Така се случи, че в същата седмица, през която четях книгата, изгледах и "Liberation Day"- филм, посветен на посещението на словенската индъстриъл група "Лайбах" в Северна Корея. Те са първата западна група, посещавала тази страна. Филмът е наистина любопитен и показва една нация, управлявана чрез друга система, и в която всичко изглежда ужасно сюрреалистично, а стремежът към социалистическа утопия буквално извира от всяко ъгълче на Пхенян. Всичко е стегнато, добре подредено, организирано и ... доста изкуствено, неестествено, плашещо. Членовете на "Лайбах" трябваше да настроят цялата си апаратура към севернокорейската техника, която наподобява тази на Европа от 60-те години. Самата словенска група се е родила по време на комунизма в бивша Югославия, затова на членовете й всичко в азиатската страната изглеждаше познато. А както и те признават, изпълнението на севернокорейците е значително по-добро и по-прецизно от това на югославяните - "комунизмът, за който ние мечтаехме". Музикантите от "Лайбах" трябваше да се изправят срещу добрите и лошите страни (най-вече непоклатимата цензура) на една странна държава, която сякаш е от друга реалност.

Когато четях книгата на южнокорееца Ким Йонг-ха, най-трудното за мен бе да запомня и науча имената на героите - всички ми звучаха еднакво. В "Империята на светлината" главният герой е Ки-Йонг, мъж на средна възраст, роден в Северна Корея, обучаван и пратен на юг за да извършва шпионаж. Неговите директни началници биват освободени и по този начин проектът е провален, а Ки-Йонг остава забравен в южнокорейската столица Сеул. Той обаче намира начин да се впише в "капиталистическата" култура, да се ожени и да създаде семейство с нищо неподозиращата Ма-ри. Но в един съдбовен ден получава съобщение-призовка, подканяща го да се върне в Пхенян. Ки-Йонг изпада в паника, той е свикнал със семейството си, с дъщеря си, със спокойния живот на юг, където за разлика от север може да се взимат собствени решения.

Макар и писана като шпионски криминален роман, на фона на който се развива семейна драма, "Империята на светлината" има по-скоро символичен характер. В него главните герои са попили всички негативи на корейците, като Ким Йонг-ха далеч не се е спрял удобно да критикува само северните си братовчеди, но е разкостил и южната част на полуострова. В образа на Ки-Йонг виждаме отражението на това, да си роден под тоталитарна система. Ки-Йонг е загубил част от сетивата, най-вече онези, с които се изразяв��т чувства. Не него му е трудно да изразява любов, приятелство, загриженост, макар и да ги изпитва, той дълбоко ги е скрил. Живее под постоянен страх, преследва го чувство на вина. Той е израснал в политическа матрица, в която е забранено да се взимат индивидуални решения, индивидуалността и поривите са изтрити, всичко се решава колективно, приемат се само групови заключения и заповеди. И колкото и да е странно, авторът Ким не спестява критиките и към Южна Корея, чийто слабости са вписани в Ма-ри. Тя е кариеристка, преследва своето издигане нагоре, семейството го е оставила на втори план, отдала се е на удоволствия и разврат. Въпреки че южната и северната части на Корея са на двете противоположни страни на политическата скала, разделени от граници и фронтови линии, проблемите на корейците не се различават. Ким е изразил усещането, че и едната, и другата страна са отишли твърде далеч в крайностите, а семейните ценности драматично се разпадат, по една или друга причина децата започват да израстват в нездрави и нестабилни семейства.

От южната страна се развива едно презадоволено консуматорско общество, което започва да губи същинските си корени и да копира твърде елементарно Запада. То е сексуално освободено, без граници, отдало се на множество пороци. А от другата страна, на север, пък е тотално погазена личността и свободата на избор, на усещания, а в последствие и желанието да се развива, да се твори.

но все пак има надежда, тя е в следващте генерации. В образа на дъщеричката на Ма-ри и Ки-Йонг е изобразено вероятно бъдещето на Корея, с пожеланието тя да бъде обединена. Именно в децата е надеждата на автора, те могат да накарат родителите да превъзмогнат различията си, да преглътнат грешките и слабостите, и заедно да отгледат децата си в стабилни семейства.

Надявам се българските издателства да погледнат и да изкарат малко повече съвременни книги от Корея, Япония, Китай, а защо не от Филипините и Малайзия, тъй като тази част на света прогресивно се развива напред, там хората имат по-различен начин на мислене, от който можем само да научим много.
Profile Image for Deana.
602 reviews31 followers
December 11, 2018
This book ended up being a real disappointment to me. I originally learned of it from a book list -- it was highly recommended and there were a bunch of great reviews here on Goodreads so I added it to my list. This was a few years ago... turns out this book was not easy to find! No libraries in the area had it, Amazon's copies were more than I really wanted to pay. So I added it to my wishlist on Paperback Swap. Four years later, and I received the book!

But the writing (or at least, I should say, the translation...) wasn't great. Many people likened it to Haruki Murakami and I guess I can see that in terms of many of the plot points. But the writing itself wasn't nearly as good as Murakami's. Sure, there was random weird sex that inserted it into the book, a few very surreal scenes, and even a (minor) character with an imaginary friend -- all very Murakami-like. But the writing and imagery didn't compare at all. Maybe it would in the original language, though.

And those are all the parts of the plot that I didn't care that much about. I wanted to hear more about his moral dilemmas, his feelings about being called back, his feelings about his new home, etc. There were a few really interesting parts, especially about the training that he'd gone through in North Korea trying to recreate the southern cities, how people who had been south were used to make the training seem more authentic, and how those same people tried to ask him to send messages south and he was horrified by it but once he was there for a while he understood. I would have loved to hear more about those things. Instead it was following his wife as she had sex with two guys at once, and his daughter as she chased after the cute boy in school. On the one hand, you want to give a sense of his family life, but it doesn't really give the impression of a family he'd want to stay for, even though it was clear he loved his daughter.

I think this book had the opportunity to be great, but came off kind of "meh". Probably there is another book out there that better captures what I was looking for.
Profile Image for Knigoqdec.
986 reviews158 followers
February 29, 2020
Една от малкото корейски книги, които успях да харесам. По принцип изпитвам огромен проблем с корейската литература, тъй като няма по-шантави, често отвратителни и "WTF?!?!" книги. Но тази прилича на симпатичен корейски сериал с нотка тъга, смея да кажа. Концепцията е следната:
Един севернокорейски шпионин е призован да се върне у дома след повече от 15 години живот в Южна Корея. Той е изправен пред огромна дилема. Дали да се върне, дали да изостави всичко, което е постигнал - хубавата си работа, семейството си - или... или какво?

Книгата разглежда проблема Север-Юг по интересен начин от гледната точка на човек, израснал с тези проблеми и събития около себе си. Затова историята изглежда доста по-достоверна. Има някои пропуски, може би в интерес на читателя. Общо-взето останах изненадана, понеже очаквах суховат политически трилър или подобно. Не е така. Не е и нещо сълзливо, а по-скоро е любопитен експеримент за литература, която най-сетне да е разбираема и за хора извън Корея (все пак, както казах, имам травми от сблъсъка си с литературата на страната).
Profile Image for Chris.
1,502 reviews31 followers
April 4, 2011
A very different and insightful look into the fractured Koreas. More literary than spy or mystery. The entire book takes place within 24 hours. Ki-yong is 42 years old with 21 years spent in each of the Koreas. He's a NK agent( almost forgotten by the north) living and working in Seoul. He has a business and is married with one bright and charming daughter. His wife works as a VW salesperson. His entire life is turned inside out one day when he gets a message via email to return to NK. His anxiety over the why for the message and whether to comply are the gist of this book. Kim tells the story through the three family members. Has he been compromised? Does he really want to leave and go back to the austere north? So we follow him hour by hour through his day as he tries to make sense of what to do. All the time his wife is engaged in some kinky diversions. The ending is quite different and startling. It seems the decision might not be his to make.
Author 8 books45 followers
April 11, 2014
I meant to go to sleep one night a few days ago after reading for twenty minutes and I ended up reading for five hours. I finished the rest today. The book is called Your Republic Is Calling You. It’s about a North Korean spy who has lived in Seoul for 20 years. He has not received a new order in ten years. He logs into his email at work and gets a mysterious phone call, asking that he checks a specific junk email. He follows the page and receives an order, that he must get back to Pyongyang at dawn.

He doesn’t know whether the command is real or not. He doesn’t know why they are calling him back now, after he was seemingly forgotten for a decade. He doesn’t know if he leaked something unconsciously, and they’re calling him back to be executed, or if the South has found out about his identity, and he needs to come back for his own protection…and that of his South Korean wife and child, who life with him, unknowing of where he was truly raised.

The book takes place within one day, following this past-his-prime spy as he tries to unravel why he is being called back. The book also follows the sordid lives of his daughter, his wife, and a mysterious man who is watching on the whole time.

Young-Ka Kim and the translator did an excellent job with the language, as the sparse yet eloquent prose so common in the extremely talented Asian novelists is in full force here. Though dialogue is idealistic and the character’s have a few too many profound thoughts, the writing is so damned interesting you’re never taken out of it.

It was also fun reading a thriller that took place in my old neighborhood in Seoul. It really made me feel like I was back there, reading about Coex mall and Gangnam station.

What was refreshing about the book was how the author didn’t come down too hard on North Korea. Certainly, you can’t hide the facts, but it takes me right out of the story when a character who grows up in a militaristic communist country is for some reason not partial to it at all, and the book is used as a soapbox. While Young-Ka Kim’s elderly spy enjoys the finer things in South Korean life he begins to notice how different he’s become in a capitalist society, and his deliberations about his two lives, in two completely different environments, are truly fascinating.

I love reading because when you watch a movie about a serial killer, you’re just sitting there, watching what he does, going, “how cold is this person” or “what could they be thinking?” A good writer has to actually take you into the mind of their characters, and portray their thought processes. It can alter your thinking and state by presenting a new form of reality, as seen through another human.

I read a book once about a derelict kid snaps and kills his mother one day. The actual murder was a boring part of the book, whereas in the movie it would have been the main event. What was so fascinating in the novel was how the killer viewed the day after he committed his worst act. He walks the streets of Tokyo in a trance, amazed he is even able to ride his bike, buy noodles, or do anything a normal person could do. He feels exempt from the world’s duties because he is such a monster, he feels like he is defeating the world for every minute he’s not put down for his crime.

Young-Ka Kim picked a special perspective for his main protagonist. Not only is he a man living out his last day on some alien planet he invaded 20 years ago, but he is comparing the two cultures he grew up in.

I love books like this. At one point the spy asks a friend of his whether she likes honey. She says yeah, it’s okay. It’s not her favorite, but she finds nothing wrong with it. He then thinks about his home, where a woman when she gives birth to a child will get one glass of honey water, and be grateful for it the rest of her life.

You look at everything differently after reading into a man like that.

His wife has also gone awry because of her husband’s lack of emotion. Unknown to her, growing up in North Korea, he was taught to constantly criticize himself. In his training to be a spy, he was taught to be a barely noticeable pleaser, someone who never speaks up, and someone who will never be noticed. His objective was to blend in, and nothing more.
Profile Image for John.
1,458 reviews36 followers
August 3, 2017
This author doesn't seem to be very well-known among most Koreans, but he does sell rather a lot of books to the foreign-born expatriate crowd, who, like me, want to further submerse themselves in the culture by sampling the country's literary output. Unfortunately, other than the fact that this book was first written in Korean, and not many Westerners can claim to have read any books by Korean writers, it just doesn't have a lot going for it. Mr. Kim obviously has high literary ambitions, but this work still feels like it was written by a college kid for his Master's thesis. Kim constantly throughout the novel references lots of great movies, books, and music...as though he feels the need to prove to readers that he has good artistic taste. But it just comes across as a bit pretentious. The translation doesn't help either, in that the translator changes all the words over ok, but doesn't seem to have a good grasp of the flow and rhythm of well-written English, usually avoiding using long sentences and thereby making the writing style seem choppy. The dialog all feels a little childish and over-simplistic, and the swearing in the novel is awkward and usually out-of-place. The cover and title make you think you might be getting something along the lines of Vonnegut, but the story--except for taking place in Korea--is pretty mundane and surprisingly devoid of the quirky humor I was expecting. I just couldn't generate any real interest in this one, and finally gave up around the 100-page mark.
137 reviews3 followers
February 7, 2014

He will  have to go from an existence surrounded by books to one made up of walls.           p. 56

The plot is interesting:  a North Korean spy who has been living as a South Korean for 15 years without hearing from his handlers, is finally contacted to return to North Korea.  By this time he has married and had a daughter.  So now what?  Take them?  Leave them?  They are unaware of his secret existence, which was easy to hide as he had no assignments the whole time.  Or should he even respond?  Is he a dead man if he does?  What about if he doesn't?  It  is intriguing reading about what it is like to live outside of your own identity for so many years, having not just to learn a language or accent, but a different way of thinking and responding to EVERYTHING.  As these things are addressed, so are the personal lives of his wife and daughter.  These three people live very separate lives.  And so we have the story of this dysfunctional family, which is not so unlike other families in many ways, as well as the spy story.  This is not a thriller spy book, but rather the story of the characters.  I'm giving it 3 1/2 stars, and will follow the author (this is his first book).
Profile Image for Katie.
405 reviews31 followers
September 27, 2017
2017 Reading Challenge category: 8. A book written by a person of color

Wow, this really made me want to read more South Korean authors. I normally don't really love thrillers, but there were just so many different fascinating aspects of this book that it hooked me really quickly: the fact that it only spans a day, the suppositions into what a North Korean spy would have to learn about before coming to the South, some very interesting conversations that illuminated some cultural ideas, and of course the intrigue of the protagonist's recall order after many years. I'm going to be searching out more books like this in the future.
Profile Image for toni.
13 reviews
May 3, 2023
“Fate is the rock that comes flying at you from the front. If you know it’s coming, you can duck, but that knowledge will exhaust your body and soul.”
Profile Image for Katie/Doing Dewey.
1,077 reviews212 followers
August 31, 2013
Gi-yeong is a typical South Korean family man or so even his wife believes. He’s almost come to believe it himself until one day he gets a mysterious e-mail, recalling him to the home office and his duties as a North Korean spy. The book covers the 24 hours Gi-yeong has been given to report in. As he debates what to do and what to tell his family, he learns that his wife has some secrets of her own.

Like all of the translated fiction I’ve read so far, the writing style of Your Republic is Calling You was unlike any other book I’ve read. In some ways, it did remind me Murakami’s 1Q84. The sparse prose and the surreal feel of the events transpiring was very similar. Both books also have in common their inclusion of characters’ dreams, hopes, fears, sex lives, and most secret thoughts. This can be uncomfortable and would earn these books an R rating, but they’re also an amazing device for making characters seem like real people you know very well.

Despite these similarities, the content and tone of the book differentiated it completely from 1Q84. Murakami writes about mysterious hopes and desires, while Kim Young-ha writes about mysterious fear and dread. The magical realism of Murakami makes you see the magic in the most mundane of events, while Kim Young-ha’s thriller makes you see the mundane details influencing even the most extraordinary events. This book made me feel extremely uncomfortable throughout and is much darker than most books I enjoy. Other than the ending though, I really liked it anyway. The writing was beautiful and I loved the raw reality of the author’s descriptions. Sadly, the ending wasn’t even dark or tragic, it was just unresolved. That took a lot of the emotional punch out of the book and left me feeling as though the author just got tired of writing. However, even with the slightly disappointing ending, I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Murakami or dark, psychological thrillers.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.
Profile Image for Syrdarya.
285 reviews5 followers
July 5, 2014
Kim Kiyong spent the first half of his life in North Korea, and the next half in South Korea. He was a spy who was sent to wait for orders, and he blended into South Korean society gradually, marrying and having a daughter, running a film import business, and taking part in capitalist past-times such as watching sports and drinking beer. He thought he was forgotten by the North, but then he receives a strange email which turns his life upside down. His wife, Mari, is at the same time struggling with the boredom and irritations of her family life, and she rests her hopes on a love affair. Kiyong and Mari's daughter, Hyon-mi, is dealing with the typical teenage issues - two-faced classmates, a boy who likes her, and her mother, who she is convinced is her stepmother. And did she just see her father leave her school? Why was he there...?

The story covers a 24-hour period in which all three members of the Kim family experience dramatic changes in their lives. What struck me most in their family relationship is that none of them really knew who the others were. None of them was willing to come straight out and tell the truth to each other.

As his time in South Korea might be coming to an end, Kiyong is nostalgic and remembers his time in North Korea, the horrors he had pushed to the back of his mind and the training he completed before heading to Seoul, and he reminisces over how South Korea has changed in the last 20 years.

This is one of those books that I not only wish I owned, I definitely want a hard copy of the book. I would like to read it again, and I feel incomplete, because I really want to know what happens next. The book was sometimes bittersweet, often sad, with dark twists and humor bubbling up at unexpected times.
200 reviews
June 7, 2011
I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I could have read it in the original Korean. The translation was definitely awkward in places, and the cultural references flew right over my head (I clearly need to read up on Korean pop stars). Still, this is a fascinating tale about a North Korean spy, placed in South Korea as an undercover operative, but then apparently forgotten about for the past 10 years. In the meantime he's gotten married, had a child, and established himself as an importer of foreign films. Then, out of the blue, he receives a coded message: Liquidate everything and return to the North. The book chronicles the next 24 hours, as the former spy has to make the hardest decision of his life: follow orders, or defect? Returning home could mean facing execution or worse, but not returning? Meanwhile, his wife and daughter (both of whom are oblivious to his true background) are facing difficult and life changing decisions of their own. A great book about how the choices we make every day define who we are, but probably even more enjoyable if you read Korean.
Profile Image for Dario Giardina.
9 reviews17 followers
December 18, 2015
L'impero delle Luci di Kim Young-Ha racconta una storia, quella di una spia nordcoreana inviata al Sud, sicuramente interessante ed accattivante. Purtroppo però l'autore si perde in descrizioni futili (addirittura ci dirà che la moglie del protagonista si è appoggiata ad un albero ''APPENA PIANTATO''), che rallentano eccessivamente quella che dovrebbe essere una ''spy-story mozzafiato''.
Alcuni momenti della storia sono davvero notevoli, come quello in cui il protagonista Kim Kiyong si ritrova immerso nella Seoul ricostruita dal Grande Leader a Pyongyang in un set televisivo (ma reale!), che ci fanno comprendere la follia e l'incredibile differenza fra due paesi così vicini, ma allo stesso tempo così distanti. In generale non mi sento di sconsigliarlo, è una lettura sicuramente interessante e abbastanza divertente, ma sa un po' di occasione persa.
Profile Image for C. Adam Volle.
301 reviews5 followers
March 14, 2017
I found this book much better on my second reading, knowing in advance that I was in for a gloomy meditation of life in the South Korean middle class instead of a thriller, and possessed of the frame of reference necessary to mentally fill in the gaps of otherwise sparse descriptions.
Profile Image for Nazrul Islam.
Author 8 books199 followers
October 12, 2020
"স্পাই" কথাটা শুনলে আমাদের চোখের সামনে ভেসে উঠে ঝা চকচকে রঙ্গিন দুনিয়ার হাতছানি। যেখানে রোমাঞ্চ ছড়ায় প্রতি ক্ষণে ক্ষণে। কিন্তু আমাদের চোখের রঙ্গিন দুনিয়াটা আসলে বাস্তবে কি এতটাই রঙ্গিন?
একজন স্পাই কি শুধুই তার জীবন উৎসর্গ করে দেশের জন্য? মরে গেলে তো কাহিনী শেষ। একবারে খেল খতম। কিন্তু বেঁচে থাকলে একজন স্পাইকে প্রতিনিয়ত মানসিকভাবে যুদ্ধ করে যেতে হয়।

"ইউর রিপাবলিক ইজ কলিং ইউ"বইয়ের কাহিনী আবর্তিত হয়েছে একজন নর্থ কোরিয়ান স্পাই কি-ইয়ং কে ঘিরে। একুশ বছর আগে নর্থ কোরিয়া থেকে সাউথ কোরিয়াতে স্পিন্টার এজেন্ট হিসাবে আসা কি-ইয়ংয়ের সাথে গত দশ বছর ধরে নর্থ কোরিয়ান কোন যোগাযোগ নেই। তার হ্যান্ডেলাকে উৎখাত করা হয়েছে। ফলে নর্থ কোরিয়া তার এবং তার সাথে আসা অন্য স্পাইদের কথা ভুলেই গিয়েছে। কি-ইয়ং'ও নিজেকে সাউথ কোরিয়ান সাথে নিজেকে মানিয়ে নিয়েছে। স্ত্রী- সংসার নিয়ে চলে যাচ্ছে দিন।

কিন্তু একদিন হঠাৎ বার্তা পাউ কি-ইয়ং। ডাক এসেছে নর্থ কোরিয়া থেকে। ফিরে যেতে হবে নর্থ কোরিয়াতে।
২১ বছর বয়সে যখন নর্থ কোরিয়া থেকে সাউথ কোরিয়ান আসতে হয়েছিল কি-ইয়ং'কে তখন পিছনে ফেলে এসেছিল বাবা,ভাই আর পছন্দের মেয়েকে। যার সাথে সংসার করার স্বপ্ন দেখেছিল সে। কিন্তু এখন ৪২ বছর বয়সে ফিরে গিয়ে কি করবে জানে না কি-ইয়ং। তার বাবা বেঁচে আছে কিনা জানে না সে। যার সাথে সংসারের স্বপ্ন বুনেছিল সেও তো তার জন্য অপেক্ষা করে নেই। তাছাড়া সাউথে তার স্ত্রী-কন্যা আছে। ওদেরই বা কি হবে?
সবচেয়ে বড় কথা এত বছর ধরে ভুলে থাকার পরে হঠাৎ কোন কারণে মনে পড়ল তাকে? নাকি তাকে ধরার জন্য এটা সাউথ কোরিয়ার ইন্টেলিজেন্সের একটা ফাঁদ?
এর পরেও কথা আছে। তাকে ফিরিয়ে নিয়ে যাওয়া হচ্ছে কেন? সে কি কোন ভুল করেছে? তাকে কি শাস্তি দেওয়া হবে?
সবচেয়ে বড় কথা, যদি তাকে স্বাভাবিকভাবে ফিরিয়ে নিয়ে যাওয়া হয়ও এত বছর সাউথ কোরিয়ায় থেকে অভ্যস্ত হয়ে নর্থের সাথে মানিয়ে চলতে পারবে তো?
পরকিয়া করা স্ত্রীকে যদি সে সব বলে দেয় তবে কি হবে? তাকে মেনে কি মেনে নিবে ওর স্ত্রী? আর ওর মেয়ে ও-ই বা কি ভাববে?
কি-ইয়ং বুঝতে পারে দিন শেষ সবাই স্বার্থপর। কোন কিছু চিন্তা করার সময় সবাই নিজের কথাই আগে চিন্তা করে। সেখানে বিশ্বাস, প্রেম ভালোবাসা, অনুগত্যে। কোন কিছুরই স্থান নেই।

বইয়ের সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ বিষয় ছিল ক্যারেক্টারের ডেপথ। বড় কোন টুইস্ট না থাকলেও প্রতিটি চরিত্রের গভীরতা ছিল। কি-ইয়ং, ওর স্ত্রী মা-রি, মেয়ে হং মিন এবং এমনকি ডিটেকটিভ চল-সো সবারকেই যথাযথভাবে উপস্থাপন করা হয়েছে।

বইয়ের সবচেয়ে বাজে দিক হলো, বইটা মেদবহুল। খুব সহজেই ৫০-৬০ পেইজ ছেঁটে ফেলা যেত। এত এত অপ্রয়োজনীয় বর্ণনা ছিল যে বিরক্তি ���রে গিয়েছিল। বর্ণনাগুলোর সাথে কাহিনীর কোন সংযোগই ছিল না। দাঁতে দাঁত চেপে পড়ে যেতে হয়েছে।

বইটা স্লো বার্ন থ্রিলার। স্পাই থ্রিলার বলতে আমরা যেরকম অ্যাকশন প্যাকড, কার চেজ বুঝি সেসবের কিছুই পাবেন না। একজন সাধারন স্পাইয়ের সাধারণ কাহিনী এটা। বই অনেক স্লো, তাই দাঁতে দাঁত চেপে পড়ে যেতে না পারলে বিরক্তি লাগা স্বাভাবিক।

আমার রেটিং - ৩.৫
Profile Image for Cora.
169 reviews35 followers
June 17, 2023
How's this for a premise: Our hero is a deep cover spy for North Korea, who has spent twenty years leading a normal middle class life in Seoul, with a wife and a child and some level of success as a film importer. His handler was liquidated a decade ago and he has every reason to believe that Pyongyang has forgotten about him--until he gets an order to return home and await further instructions. Is this a trick? Is he about to be executed for unknown crimes against the regime? Does he even _want_ to go back, assuming that it is a real order and he's not about to be purged? All will be revealed over the next twenty-four hours.

This plot pushes the story forward, even as it becomes clear that Kim Young-ha is as interested in the transformation of South Korea from the heady days of the student revolts and the fall of the South Korean dictatorship to the current era of complacent prosperity. So while we're following Kim Ki-young plan his return home, we also follow his unsuspecting wife and child and a handful of other characters caught up in the crossfire. I'm a sucker for very expansive stories that only cover a limited amount of time, and the structural push-pull between digression and propulsion. YOUR REPUBLIC IS CALLING YOU has that in spades.

Without getting into detail, the last fifty pages of the book took it from good to great. The seemingly disparate narrative threads merged together in the perfect ending, narratively, emotionally, and thematically. I put the book down with a sense of deep and utter satisfaction. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jillian Smith.
22 reviews1 follower
January 28, 2022
theres so much about trust and personal identity throughout this book. it kept my attention and surprised me. loved this book, will be one i recommend a lot i think
Profile Image for Kathleen Flynn.
Author 1 book409 followers
August 22, 2021
This was an interesting and absorbing even if not entirely satisfying book. It takes place over one (long) day in Seoul in the recent past, following the doings of several people: a 40-something man, his wife, their teenage daughter, the daughter's teacher, some investigators. Everyone has secrets, some more explosive than others. But what choices will be made when the secrets come out, as secrets inevitably must? (At least in novels they must; maybe not so much in real life.)

The cover kind of hints at it, so I don't think I am giving too much away to reveal that the main character, the 40-something man Ki-Yong, is secretly a North Korean agent, who has been living a lie in South Korea for half of his life. As the novel begins, we learn he has gotten the order he thought would never come: return to the north. He doesn't want to go; he likes his life, even if it isn't perfect. His assumed identity has become real to him in many ways. He's also not sure if this order actually came from the north, or maybe the South Korean agents are on to him?

So there are aspects of a spy thriller, and I found myself becoming quite absorbed in this part. There's also quite a bit about recent South Korean history -- several of the now middle-aged people were student radicals in the 1980s, thinking about how much their country has changed since then.

Downsides: The female characters felt less real to me than the male ones, and there was an annoying tendency, especially toward the end of the book, to halt the action with long, philosophical speeches, or anecdotes that seemed only vaguely related to the story. We seemed to be being told of the character's feelings more than feeling them. The ending puzzled me a bit.

But overall, well worth reading for its perspective on Korean life.

Profile Image for Rowie.
238 reviews10 followers
January 2, 2015
Ik ben dit boek gaan lezen met de gedachte dat het een spannende thriller zou zijn die de politieke verschillen tussen Noord en Zuid-Korea aan het licht zou brengen. Wat ik kreeg was een geforceerde poging tot literatuur. Kim Young-Ha doet teveel zijn best om literair over te komen. Helaas kunnen zijn mooie woorden het dunne plot niet verbergen. Het blijft een feit dat je de eerste tweehonderd bladzijden niet meer krijgt dan personages die van plaats naar plaats gaan en daar ter plekke terug denken aan het verleden, terwijl er op de plaats zelf vrij weinig gebeurt. Hoewel Young-Ha poëtische constructies in elkaar flanst (of zijn dat de vertalers?) heeft hij nog nooit gehoord van literaire basisregels als show, don't tell en gebruik één perspectief per hoofdstuk.

Ook besteed hij teveel tijd aan personages die later nooit meer terugkomen. Ik moest erg lachen toen er een personage met de bijnaam Aardappel verscheen maar dat neemt niet weg dat het raar is dat Aardappel na zijn uitgebreide introductie niet eens meer voorkomt.

Pas tegen het einde kwam het boek op gang. Toen kreeg ik de actie waar ik al die tijd al op zat te wachten. Ook het rustige, lichtelijke open einde is goed gedaan.

Conclusie: Het is dat ik dit boek op het Boekenfestijn kocht, anders vond ik het zonde van mijn geld. Misschien ben ik nog niet volwassen genoeg voor de langzame opbouw van een volwassen roman. Hoewel ik denk dat het eerder aan de kwaliteit van de schrijfstijl ligt.
Profile Image for John Collings.
Author 2 books26 followers
December 14, 2016
Part of me really liked this book. Part of me was really disappointed with this book. The funny thing about it is that the part of the book that should have been the more entertaining part was the part that bored me the most. In this spy thriller set in Seoul, South Korea, a North Korean forgotten spy is sent Order Number 4 and is asked to return back to the motherland. The opens up a whole range of emotions for the spy who has made a life for himself in this bustling capitalistic city. He now has a beautiful wife, and super intelligent daughter that know nothing about his dark secret. Is he supposed to leave them behind? Should he just ignore the order? Should he try to make a new life for himself in a new country? These are the questions that he must struggle with, and you would think that this would be the interesting part. Instead, I was more fascinated by what it means to be a successful spy and the philosophy the protagonist had to live with as he straddled two different worlds. This was the real heart of this book. The rest of it was mess that bounced between the different stories of the man who faces this decision, his cheating wife, his daughter exploring her relationships with the opposite sex for the first time, and the man who is chasing down this renegade spy. It all comes together in the end, sort of. As a spy novel, it falls flat. As a philosophical discourse, it is fascinating. I think knowing this before reading the book will make it more enjoyable.
Profile Image for Caroline.
516 reviews21 followers
October 6, 2010
A North Korean spy, having lived under a different identity in South Korea receives a message one day recalling him back to his homeland, his assignment, apparently over. He has 24 hours to return and eliminate all incriminating evidence.

We watch him through the day slowly attempting to erase himself from the life he has built for himself in South Korea since he was sent over and adopted a dead South Korean man's identity more than 30 years ago. In the process of erasing traces of his life, we see his life as a trainee and the process by which he and others in his class were trained for the work they were assigned.

But can he really return home calmly? Has he been changed after living in a democratic country? And what and how will he tell his wife and daughter?

Soon doubts start to surface in his mind. How does he know that the Order really came from Pyongyang? Is he being followed by someone from the North, to see if he will indeed follow Order 4, or if he will attempt to escape? What does he really want, after all these years?

Living as a spy and not trusting anyone has an impact on his relationships with even his wife and daughter. What secrets do they keep from each other?

Makes for a thought provoking read.
Profile Image for Charlotte H.
90 reviews1 follower
June 10, 2021
This book is a real diamond in the rough for someone like me who loves books about Korea, spy novels, AND a North/South Korea topic. Yet, it's also not what you'd expect at all if you'd read that genre. Like The Americans (late FX show), Your Republic Is Calling You is more about identity and marriage than it is about spying or political ideology.

Kim is a master of an unsettling mood and writing about people who are unsettled or alienated. This ultimately may be more of a 3.5 than a 4 because while it's a really fun read that is wholly singular in tone and style, some of the character motivations are fuzzy at times and the one love motel passage with the wife is downright bizarre in a way that takes you out of the story with events that are just a tad beyond the distance we can suspend disbelief for this kind of novel (maybe any novel?).

Still a great and engaging read though that more people should have on their lists.
Profile Image for Amy Warrick.
524 reviews33 followers
July 28, 2011
You know, the premise of the book is fascinating - North Korean spy, living in South Korea for years, is given the order to drop everything and come home. The book covers the next 24 hours. Once again I wonder, in the face of rave reviews on amazon.com, if it's me, or if it's the book....but this one didn't deliver. Nobody is likable, so I lost interest in Ki-yong's dilemma. I lost interest in his wife's dilemma. I lost interest in his teen daughter. Characters seem to be presented as case studies vice real people. It's possible that translation accounts for some of it...but in the meantime, read when you want to sleep.
Profile Image for Irad Narukaya.
3 reviews4 followers
July 12, 2013
a surprising book. A literally one-day novel told in the perspective of different characters, and how their personalities, past as well as the society they lived in relate to the present conditions. The early parts are a little bit draggy, and it might be slightly confusing to those without a basic knowledge of the Korean war and the South Korean democratization movement, but the touches of philosophy and a spy story made up for it.

favourite quote: "Life is a continuous cycle of once terrifying things becoming normal."
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