The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project by Robert S Boynton - review by John Sweeney

John Sweeney

Prisoners of Pyongyang

The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project


Atlantic Books 271pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

In August 1978, Hitomi Soga, then nineteen, and her mother went for a walk at dusk near their home on Sado Island off the west coast of Japan, eating ice creams. Three men appeared from nowhere, bound and gagged them, and dragged them to a small wooden skiff hidden out of the way. The skiff made off in the darkness. A day later Hitomi found herself in North Korea. Her mother had vanished. She ended up spending the next twenty-four years in the country.

Imagine someone so solipsistic as to imagine he could go around kidnapping dozens of foreign nationals, making them vanish from the face of the earth, and you have some conception of the madness of Kim Jong Il. From 1977 to 1983 the bouffant-haired weirdo of tiny stature and oversized glasses commanded his North Korean goons to kidnap individuals from Japan and other nations so that they could teach his agents to be better spies.

Kidnapping was a Kim family business. The man who created the family firm, Kim Il Sung, reputedly captured and ransomed wealthy Koreans while trying to overthrow the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. After 1945, when Stalin gifted North Korea to Kim the First, hapless South Korean fishermen who crossed the

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