Pak Jun Do is the son of the master of the orphanage Long Tomorrows (hence the book title). Though he is not technically an orphan, he is treated as such, which in North Korea essentially means you are the lowest class, and nearly untouchable. Orphans are stripped of their birth names, and given names of North Korean martyrs, and as such, are easily distinguishable. They are also easily plucked by the government to do the most deplorable jobs that no one wants, or even acknowledges exist: secret tunnel digger/fighter, kidnapper of Japanese citizens, and radio operator on a local fishing vessel.
Propaganda plays a huge role in the story, as the North Korean government feeds its citizens “information” on loud speakers multiple times per day. Citizens live in a sort of blind terror of their government, and each other, and the animalistic ways people survive is nothing short of terrifying. It almost makes you wonder if the struggle is worth it at all.
Although this was a very interesting look at the North Korean culture, I don’t know how accurate a portrayal could actually be from a Stanford professor. I appreciate the attempt at bringing North Korea to the American public, and I have no doubt life there is terrifyingly different from our own. I am so much more grateful, for example, that Kim Jong Il is dead now than ever before: he is portrayed as being both humorous and vicious, nearly in the same instant. My main problem is that I wonder at the authenticity of the character portrayal, due to the fact that it was written by an alien of North Korea. Feel free to tear me apart on this one, but that’s my opinion.
I do wish the last 1/3 of the book hadn’t been as wildly erratic and plot-twisty. I don’t know what purpose the wild departure served, maybe to lessen the blow for the reader? Maybe to lessen the attempt at connection to real life in North Korea? I don’t know, but it was rather less satisfying than it could have been. Again, just my opinion.
All in all, worth a read, but this one did take me a long time to slog through. The darkness, and the seeming inevitability of watching yourself become the villain in this kind of society does take a toll.