October 6, 2011

Inspector O

Set in North Korea in 1997, Bamboo and Blood, by James Church, tells the story of Inspector O. O is a thoughtful and introverted man who is trying to maneuver his way through the complicated politics and silences of the North Korean Ministry. The bleak winter reflects the bleak attitude of most of the people in North Korea, who are struggling merely to stay alive while O struggles to discover who killed a woman, when he doesn't even know where or how she died.

His mysterious assignment to discover who killed the unknown woman leads him to New York and Geneva. The plot becomes rather too convoluted in Geneva, where O's fellow North Korean diplomats and the Israeli who has been following him are joined by Swiss intelligence, and then the three groups proceed to chase each other in circles while they all try to figure out what O is up to, and he tries to figure out what they're up to.

The glimpse of the poverty and hardship of life in North Korea was gripping though, as was the stark imagery of the winter in Korea and Switzerland. O's obsession with wood, and the feelings that different types of trees can create in him are a part of his thoughtfulness and his careful attention to detail. This attention to detail is reflected both in O's knowledge of what makes a beech different from a maple, and in the way he can see himself in the shoes of those around him, whether they be fellow Koreans, or foreigners. I liked how the characters rarely had names, and those who did have names merely had one, 'Pak', 'O', etc. It made O's humanity in the midst of the obedient and faceless North Korean legions all the more apparent.

Rating: 3.8 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Yes

Do you know much about North Korea? I can't think of any other books set there, can you?

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Psst...don't forget that the giveaway is still open for a few more days!