The Invitation-Only Zone (Hardcover)

The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

By Robert S. Boynton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374175849, 288pp.

Publication Date: January 12, 2016

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (1/17/2017)
MP3 CD (4/19/2016)

List Price: 26.00*
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A bizarre, little-known tale about the most secretive culture on earth

For decades, North Korea denied any part in the disappearance of dozens of Japanese citizens from Japan’s coastal towns and cities in the late 1970s. But in 2002, with his country on the brink of collapse, Kim Jong-il admitted to the kidnapping of thirteen people and returned five of them in hopes of receiving Japanese aid. As part of a global espionage project, the regime had attempted to reeducate these abductees and make them spy on its behalf. When the scheme faltered, the captives were forced to teach Japanese to North Korean spies and make lives for themselves, marrying, having children, and posing as North Korean civilians in guarded communities known as “Invitation-Only Zones”—the fiction being that they were exclusive enclaves, not prisons.

From the moment Robert S. Boynton saw a photograph of these men and women, he became obsessed with their story. Torn from their homes as young adults, living for a quarter century in a strange and hostile country, they were returned with little more than an apology from the secretive regime.

In The Invitation-Only Zone, Boynton untangles the bizarre logic behind the abductions. Drawing on extensive interviews with the abductees, Boynton reconstructs the story of their lives inside North Korea and ponders the existential toll the episode has had on them, and on Japan itself. He speaks with nationalists, spies, defectors, diplomats, abductees, and even crab fishermen, exploring the cultural and racial tensions between Korea and Japan that have festered for more than a century.

A deeply reported, thoroughly researched book, The Invitation-Only Zone is a riveting story of East Asian politics and of the tragic human consequences of North Korea’s zealous attempt to remain relevant in the modern world.

About the Author

Robert S. Boynton's journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. He is the author of The New New Journalism and directs the Literary Reportage program at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

Praise For The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

“Boynton . . . gives us a riveting portrait of these bizarre kidnappings . . . His musings about Japan’s reaction to the abductions, ‘Japan’s 9/11,’ and the sudden realization ‘that the world was more dangerous than it had thought’ are cogent. His study of the ordeal that the abductees went through is moving.” —Sheila Miyoshi Jager, The New York Times Book Review

"Boynton has done his homework well, converting the suffering inflicted on a few dozen individuals into an eye-opening and surprisingly moving narrative.” —Publishers Weekly

“A thorough investigative report into the systematic abduction of Japanese citizens by the North Korean intelligence network over many decades. . . . More than anecdotal stories, [Boynton's] work zeroes in on the deeply uneasy makeup of the Korean-Japanese relationship. Engaging reading, surreal in some of the Orwellian detail.” —Kirkus Reviews

"An excellent work that is an optimal choice for both North Korea and Japan watchers." —Joshua Wallace, Library Journals Review (starred review)