Harvill Secker | 2018 (Hb: 10 May; ebook: 3 May) | 440p | Review copy | Buy the book
In June 1988, teenager Soo-min, a Korean American, disappeared along with her boyfriend from a beach in South Korea. The young couple were presumed drowned but Soo-min’s twin sister Jenna has never stopped believing that she is still alive and she has continued to search for her. The years have gone by, 22 of them, and now it looks as if the truth might be known and it’s a terrible truth. A captured North Korean submarine captain has admitted that years before he snatched people from beaches and carried them to North Korea. Soo-min and her boyfriend were just two of many. Jenna will do anything to find out Soo-min’s fate, even if that means changing her life completely, becoming a spy and undertaking a daring mission into North Korea.
North Korea is unlike anywhere else on Earth. The Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il, is worshipped as a living god while his adoring subjects endure deprivations beyond imagining, with little food or light, literally working as slaves to fund their Dear Leader’s lavish lifestyle and secret projects. Mrs Moon is trying to keep herself and her husband alive by working in her spare time at a market selling food. It’s a terribly risky business and the borderline between survival and starvation is thin. By contrast Colonel Cho appears to have it all. He believes in Kim Jong-Il, he has a family he loves and can provide for and his future looks bright. Until the day comes that proves just how unsafe all lives are in this state.
I thought I knew a little about North Korea but this fantastic thriller shows me just how little that was. D.B. North has the credentials – he’s visited North Korea, he’s seen its control and influence over its citizens for himself and he brings all of this to bear in Star of the North. The portrait of North Korea is utterly compelling – but it also repels. This is an appalling state of affairs and we see it in action here as it affects all levels of North Korean society, or rather the privileged and the starving.
The story is engrossing and made even more so by the fact that we follow a number of lives through the novel, in the US and in North Korea. Jenna, Mrs Moon and Cho each have their motives, the force that drives them on, and they are all totally committed to their path. It is also extremely exciting and thrilling, full of surprises and shocks as well as moments of such tension. And it couldn’t be more topical.
I longed for Jenna to find the answers she was searching for and I agonised for Mrs Moon and Cho. Mrs Moon, for me, is the heart of this wonderful novel. Her story is astonishing.
I can’t praise this intense and thoroughly absorbing political/spy thriller enough. It’s an eye opener about North Korea and is genuinely shocking. It’s also a page turner and no wonder because it tells a brilliant story and its people are wholly believable – I cared deeply. Star of the North is a topical and relevant thriller, enormously exciting, extremely intelligent, beautifully written and not to be missed.
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