North Koreans as Human Beings
"James Church's Inspector O detective series offers surprising insights," says Torie Bosch in a review of a series that depicts North Korea as "a nation of living and conniving people, not brainwashed ciphers" — Why Don't More North Koreans Defect? An excerpt:
- But beneath the progressive surface, O is a traditionalist, looking back with longing to the morals and lessons his grandfather taught him—wisdom about woodworking, trees, and their corollaries in life: "You have to keep things neat," O recalls his grandfather telling him. "Life may not be like that, not for humans, anyway. … But there is order to everything else around us. You'll never come across a disorderly forest, and I'm not talking about trees standing in rows and saluting, either." O orients himself by these small hints from a man who grew disillusioned with the regime later in life: Order is not the same as militarism; neatness does not require total control.
In the only Communist country that is still a dynasty, such filial ties are an inheritance that can't be taken away—and that exist even for "the central" himself, who is believed to be readying one son for succession. But it is in O's equally traditionalist refusal to turn his back on his country that he seems in step with his compatriots. Church doesn't presume to offer a political diagnosis, but his introverted hero suggests clues to the absence of a resistance movement: Rebellion here takes the form of solitude. What Church's novels excel at, aside from unspooling intricate plots, is evoking an ethos of unexpected ambivalence. Our North Korean detective's heart may not beat for the Dear Leader, but he rejects his many opportunities to defect over the course of four novels that have included numerous trips to New York, Geneva, Pakistan, China, Macau, Prague, and elsewhere.