Author(s): Robert Boynton
During the 1970s and early 80s, dozens - perhaps hundreds - of Japanese civilians were kidnapped by North Korean commandos and forced to live in 'Invitation Only Zones', high-security detention-centres masked as exclusive areas, on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The objective? To brainwash the abductees with the regime's ideology, and train them to spy on the state's behalf. But the project faltered; when indoctrination failed, the captives were forced to teach North Korean operatives how to pass as Japanese, to help them infiltrate hostile neighbouring nations. For years, the Japanese and North Korean authorities brushed off these disappearances, but in 2002 Kim Jong Il admitted to kidnapping thirteen citizens, returning five of them - the remaining eight were declared dead. In The Invitation Only Zone, Boynton, an investigative journalist, speaks with the abductees, nationalists and diplomats, and crab fishermen, to try and untangle both the kidnappings and the intensely complicated relations between North Korea and Japan. The result is a fierce and fascinating exploration of North Korea's mysterious machinations, and the vexed politics of Northeast Asia.
Part spy thriller, part political investigation, part narrative history, this is hugely topical given the constant high-profile of North Korea and its role in Northeast Asia at the moment; It has a fascinating mix of both the personal story of the abductees and a wider geopolitical angle; Boynton explores a subject that has had relatively little coverage, with wonderfully written, evocative text; A story so bizarre and outlandish it could be fiction.
"The Invitation-Only Zone is a rare feat of investigative reporting. Robert Boynton's relentless pursuit of the chilling story of Japanese citizens abducted to the outskirts of Pyongyang, brings us well inside the heavily-policed realm of Kim II-Song and his son, Kim Jong-II." - Gay Taiese. "Engaging reading, surreal in some of the Orwellian detail." - Kirkus Review
Robert S. Boynton is the director of NYU's magazine journalism program and is the editor of The New New Journalism. His journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and many others.