This book is tremendous. It will shake you and keep shaking you through the roller coaster ride that is the North Korean narrative. This book even overshadows other dystopian fiction like Orwell's 1984 simply because it is so much more than an author's imagined creation. It feels as though someone read 1984 as a field guide and used it to conjure up a real place, except that the real place is even more jarring, even less believable, even more shaped by the power of propagandist narrative than Orwell's fiction could have conjured.
Johnson has done a stunning job of blending together a compelling narrative along with deep research into a land that most of us have only vague notions about. While reading this book, I started reading North Korean news websites and watching YouTube videos and documentaries that were accessible to me. What I started realizing was how accurate Johnson's depictions were, and how little embellishment there was even for some of the most unbelievable scenes.
It has now been over a month since I read this book but it still remains fresh in my mind as an eye-opener, a thriller, an educational journey and a good piece of literary fiction to read. I highly recommend it.