Pyongyang, North Korea, 2011. In a city full of lies one man seeks the truth. Han guides foreign tourists around predetermined routes, with glossed over histories. But he dreams of more – his parents died in a car crash he’s never believed happened, he finds solace in illegal foreign books considered classic around the world. His latest guides are two undercover journalists, but Han doesn’t fear them, nor loathe them – he wants to help, he wants change, and he wants the truth.
The Limits of the World is great for a number of reasons.
1. I like documentaries. Despite the abundance of excellent shows on Netflix, I’ve still taken time to watch obnoxious amounts of documentaries, including a few on North Korea. The country is so bizarre, but this felt a legitimate portrayal of it, given how documentaries represent it.
2. In line with that, I like journalism – it was my undergrad and I can sit with rolling world news on the TV for more hours than I’d care to admit. The journalist slant made it interesting beyond a mere Korean story, but a relatable one on documentary making, and how the outside world views NK.
3. Then there’s the literature slant. The illegal books that infiltrate the country are used to parallel the character’s stories, emotions and passions – 1984 is the central one, as the story is almost perfectly aligned, but even just the use of passing quotes in literature are so nice and fitting. Plus, there’s a general passion that comes from literature and a connection to be found there; with so many lonely people in this Big Brother-esque society, it really reads strongly here.
There were some miniscule bumps, but it was such an excellent book that I can’t help but gush about it. Han isn’t just a good lead character in general for his desires and strength, but he brings hope in oppressed surroundings. Lots of twists and turns, issues of trust across the board, and every character has a place, no matter how small. No one is there for the novelty or to fluff out the cast.
Well researched, realistic, excellent fictional portrayal of the regime – cannot recommend it highly enough.
2nd April 2015 | Cargo Publishing