Monday, July 2, 2018

Star of the North (Book Review)

Title: Star of the North 
Author: D. B. John
Publication: Crown Publishing, hardcover, 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Jenna’s twin sister disappeared 12 years ago while studying in Korea, devastating the while family.  Jenna has tried to rebuild her life and is a successful academic at Georgetown University when she learns there is a possibility Soo-Min is alive.  Abandoning her career, she joins the CIA in an attempt to learn as much as possible about North Korea and expedite any opportunity to rescue her sister.  Other characters include a North Korean diplomat, Colonel Cho, part of the Pyongyang elite who is sent on a mission to negotiate with the United States – where he meets Jenna – and Mrs. Moon, a North Korean peasant living near the Chinese border, trying desperately to support herself and an invalid husband.

Audience: Fans of suspense, particularly those who enjoy strong female characters.  I recommend to readers who enjoy David Baldacci and Dean Koontz.

My Impressions: What a timely book written by Welsh-born David Johns and, more importantly, it was impossible to put down!  Jenna is an appealing and compelling heroine whose nightmares about her sister’s disappearance and survivor’s guilt have prevented her from developing close relationships as an adult, although she is beautiful and brilliant.   Her dual heritage from her African-American military father and her Korean mother has set her apart and focused her academic interests so when she is recruited to join the CIA, she can almost immediately discern information on North Korea that is not apparent to Washington insiders. 
 
Parallel with Jenna’s story is a convincing look at the highest and the lowest in North Korea:  Colonel Cho Sang-ho appears to have it all as a member of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a high-ranking position, serving Kim Jong-Il (father of the current despot), and Mrs. Moon has a heartbreaking life of selling scraps by a railway station in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province, bribing police out of her meager profits to survive each day.   I was so busy reading I forgot to wonder how her story intersected with the others, and was surprised and impressed by the author’s skill in weaving these disparate personalities into a disturbing yet enthralling narrative. I am embarrassed at how weak my geography is – hence the map above.  I did not have much interest in North Korea prior to this year but found this story fascinating.  Best of all, there is clearly room for a sequel but not at the expense (as my sister was just complaining) of ending this book without a conclusion.

Source: This book was recommended by my talented college classmate Nick Kristof in his newsletter, and I got a copy from the Boston Public Library.   I suggest you give it a try.

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