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In the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea systematically pursued a policy of covertly abducting Japanese civilians from Japan in order to bolster its espionage campaign against neighboring countries. The abductees were typically young, sometimes children or new couples, most commonly seized from seaside communities in Japan’s remote north-west. New York-based journalist Robert Boynton has written a detailed and wide-ranging account, based on interviews with Japanese politicians, activists, academics and a handful of the surviving abductees and family members who returned to Japan in 2002 and 2004. The account is vivid and often harrowing, documenting the abductees’ lives in North Korea, kept in relative isolation in special detention villages (or “invitation zones”) outside Pyongyang, and the challenges of later readjustment to life back in Japan. The book is also much more broadly a close exploration of the complicated historical relationship between Japan and the Korean Peninsula, exploring the legacy of the colonial period, complex issues of race and national identity, as well as the history of discrimination against ethnic Koreans in post-1945 Japan. We learn about Cold War projects to repatriate ethnic Koreans to the North in the late 1950s — tragic initiatives that frequently ended in disillusion, trauma and sometimes death — as well as the more recent complicated issue of abduction politics within Japan and Pyongyang’s fraught bilateral diplomacy both with Tokyo and with Seoul.
– John Nilsson-Wright, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge

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