All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Press
Il-sun and Gi are North Korean orphans, factory workers, and best friends despite their differences. Gi is somewhat introverted, loyal, a math wizard. She is the kind of girl who always produces more than her quota in the factor, doing her duty for the Dear Leader, but always willing to share her extras with Il-sun, a girl who rarely meets quota and has the gall to spit on Dear Leader’s portrait when alone in the dark. Unlike Gi, though, Il-sun is beautiful, and her beauty covers a multitude of sins. The fact that she is also naive and an orphan, though, makes Il-sun’s beauty dangerous, and the two girls end up smuggled into South Korea and sold into sexual slavery, where they are particularly vulnerable thanks to their North Korean brainwashing.
Mr. Choy took on a hard, stern look, the hint of a dangerous rage rippling across his eyes. It was a look that said his friendly, accommodating exterior was a thin crust over a far more volatile core. He smiled wryly and said, “If you refuse to work for me, I will have no choice but to hand you over to the American army, who will rape, torture, and kill you. Of course the choice is yours.” –p. 161
All Woman and Springtime is beautifully written, both in prose and plotting. The story is almost immediately engrossing. Particularly effective is Jones’s method of occasionally switching to the point of view of more minor characters, whichever is currently most important to the story. This does not work in all narratives, but in All Woman and Springtime it adds layers of depth to the story, by highlighting the variety of North Korean mindsets and situations. In fact, Jones does a wonderful job in general giving his readers a background to the North Korean cultural setting without becoming overly didactic. He walks a line well, giving enough information to those who have little or no knowledge of recent North Korean history beyond the death of Kim Jong Il but not succumbing to an info dump that will bore readers who have done further reading on North Korea.
In addition to the rich setting, Jones has created realistic and well-rounded characters who will stay in the reader’s mind for some time to come. Not only does All Woman and Springtime give readers a peek into the lives and vulnerabilities of some North Korean woman, but Jones’s story and characters are so compelling that the story becomes universal. Very highly recommended.
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