10 books like The Invitation-Only Zone

By Robert S. Boynton,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Invitation-Only Zone. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

I met Barbara at an international conference on human rights called Oslo Freedom Forum, in Norway, where we were both speakers at that conference. After talking to her, I read her book and learned more about the heart-breaking situation in North Korea. It was a real eye-opener for me and inspired me to see the courage of North Korean refugees who escaped the atrocities and speak out for their own homeland. 

Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nothing to Envy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
 
Demick brings to life…


Without You, There Is No Us

By Suki Kim,

Book cover of Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

In 2011, novelists and journalist Suki Kim spent six months teaching English to young members of the North Korean elite at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and this is her account of that experience. Where Demick’s book is an unparalleled insight into the life of ordinary North Koreans, Suki Kim lays bare the denial and self-deception required of her students, and the claustrophobia and absurdity of living in the “upper classes” of North Korea’s supposedly egalitarian society.

Without You, There Is No Us

By Suki Kim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Without You, There Is No Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, except for the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This is where Suki Kim has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.

Life at the university is lonely and claustrophobic. Her letters are read by censors and she must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but also from her…


Dear Leader

By Jang Jin-Sung,

Book cover of Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea

Jang Jin-Sung was Kim Jong-Il’s poet laureate, assigned to a division permitted to consume censored foreign materials. His life is about as good as life can get in North Korea – until one of the foreign magazines he has lent to a friend goes missing, and Jang must flee his home country or face retribution. Dear Leader is fascinating because it’s a book written by a genuine insider, a man who, until his own neck was on the line, served the regime more-or-less happily. To be honest, Jang is not a particularly likable narrator, but there’s an honesty and an urgency to the writing that illuminates the cynicism and manipulation at the heart of the regime.

Dear Leader

By Jang Jin-Sung,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dear Leader as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SUNDAY TIMES TOP 10 BESTSELLER

Dear Leader contains astonishing new insights about North Korea which could only be revealed by someone working high up in the regime. It is also the gripping story of how a member of the inner circle of this enigmatic country became its most courageous, outspoken critic.

Jang Jin-sung held one of the most senior ranks in North Korea's propaganda machine, helping tighten the regime's grip over its people. Among his tasks were developing the founding myth of North Korea, posing undercover as a South Korean intellectual and writing epic poems in support of the dictator,…


Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader

By Bradley K. Martin,

Book cover of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

A mammoth volume, and yet somehow an unputdownable page-turner. It’s the best available overview of North Korea’s first, and most influential, leaders, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, and the society they created. It’s clear, measured, and detailed – and even though it’s fifteen years old, as an explainer, it’s a necessary foundation for any layperson trying to get to grips with the dynamics behind the headlines.

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader

By Bradley K. Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dual portrait of Orwellian leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il traces events from the end of World War II to the present, cites North Korea's stockpile of chemical weapons, describes Kim Il-Sung's numerous leadership roles, and warns readers about the threat posed by North Korea to American securi


The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson,

Book cover of The Orphan Master's Son

Adam Johnson visited North Korea once as a tourist. Based on his keen observations during those weeks, he spins a fantastic tale about Pak Jun Do, an orphaned boy who uses treachery and deception to rise to a high position in the North Korean regime. Pak is part of a crew that kidnaps a little girl from Japan, and later marries North Korea’s most famous actress. The genius of the book is that Johnson imbues the characters with believable personalities, even as he moves them through a nightmarish reality most would find completely unbelievable. The book is so good that one need not have any interest in, or knowledge of, North Korea to enjoy it.

The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Orphan Master's Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

- WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
- 'You know you are in the hands of someone who can tell a story. Fantastic' ZADIE SMITH
The award-winning and New York Times bestselling novel: a dark and witty story of the rise of a young orphan in the surreal and tyrannical regime of North Korea .

Young Pak Jun Do is convinced he is special. He knows he must be the unique son of the master of the orphanage, and definitely not some kid dumped by his parents. Surely it…


Kaempfer's Japan

By Englebert Kaempfer, Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey (translator),

Book cover of Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed

This book first excited my interest in the Tokugawa period and directly led to my first two academic books on the subject. Kaempfer’s History of Japan was a best-seller from the date of its publication in London in 1727. The author was a German doctor in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, who were the only Europeans the Tokugawa rulers would allow into Japan until 1853. He was able to make two trips to the capital of Edo, likely the largest city in the world at the time, and thus was able to observe Tokugawa society broadly.

He recorded important events (such as meeting the shogun) as well as the mundane minutiae of life. It is, hands down, the best informed and liveliest foreign account of Tokugawa Japan before the mid-19th century. Bodart-Bailey translated the text from the original German, annotated it, and wrote a very helpful…

Kaempfer's Japan

By Englebert Kaempfer, Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kaempfer's Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Engelbert Kaempfer's work was a best-seller from the moment it was published in London in 1727 and remains one of the most valuable sources for historians of the Tokugawa period. The narrative describes what no Japanese was permitted to record (the details of the shogun's castle, for example) and what no Japanese thought worthy of recording (the minutiae of everyday life). However, all previous translations of the history oar flawed, being based on the work of an 18th century Swiss translator or that of the German editor some fifty years later who had little knowledge of Japan and resented Kaempfer's…


Kwaidan

By Lafcadio Hearn,

Book cover of Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things

On my very first night in Japan, some twenty years ago, my friend told me a local ghost story as we ascended a deserted, dark back street of Tokyo. It featured no-face ghosts (nopperabo) and, memorably, the chills merged with my jet lag to bring me face-to-almost face with the world of Japanese spirits in my first hours in the country. A couple of days later my friend gifted me a copy of Hearn’s Kwaidan and it remains a treasured book to this day. Hearn’s retellings of classic Japanese ghost stories are as valued to this day in Japan as in the West. He’s a great writer. More importantly, Hearn was a sensitive, thoughtful, and wonderful chronicler of other cultures, particularly supernatural Japan. His life and work continue to be an inspiration to me.

Kwaidan

By Lafcadio Hearn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kwaidan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of Japanese supernatural stories is a classic work in the field of Japanese horror.

Known primarily as an early interpreter of Japanese culture and customs, the famous writer Lafcadio Hearn also wrote ghost stories-"delicate, transparent, ghostly sketches"-about his adopted land. Many of the stories found in Kwaidan, "stories and studies of strange things," are based on Japanese tales told long ago to him by his wife; others possibly have a Chinese origin. All have been re-colored and reshaped by Hearn's inimitable hand.

Some critics attribute Hearn's fascination with eerie tales to his partial blindness. Whatever its roots, he…


Breaking Barriers

By Constantine Nomikos Vaporis,

Book cover of Breaking Barriers: Travel and the State in Early Modern Japan

Vaporis’ Breaking Barriers gave me the background knowledge to understand how developed the system of travel was in Edo Japan. Both in relation to the infrastructure and the regulations imposed by the Bakufu under the Tokugawa regime. I was particularly impressed to learn about the sankin kotai, which is the travel expeditions of the regional lords (the daimyo) for their mandatory alternate residency in Tokyo, and the different protocols and checks across the roads.

Despite the harsh laws of the Tokugawa’s system of roads, barriers, relays, and permits, I was surprised to discover the social reality of the roads and how travelers managed to overcome the regulations and escape from social restrictions. I also enjoyed the multiplicity of sources that Vaporis is using to describe the culture of the road beyond the official records: from diaries and literary sources to woodblock prints.  

Breaking Barriers

By Constantine Nomikos Vaporis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breaking Barriers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Travel in Tokugawa Japan was officially controlled by bakufu and domainal authorities via an elaborate system of barriers, or sekisho, and travel permits; commoners, however, found ways to circumvent these barriers, frequently ignoring the laws designed to control their mobility. In this study, Constantine Vaporis challenges the notion that this system of travel regulations prevented widespread travel, maintaining instead that a "culture of movement" in Japan developed in the Tokugawa era.

Using a combination of governmental documentation and travel literature, diaries, and wood-block prints, Vaporis examines the development of travel as recreation; he discusses the impact of pilgrimage and the…


Ghosts of the Tsunami

By Richard Lloyd Parry,

Book cover of Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan's Disaster Zone

Northern Japan was struck by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in 2011, followed by a disastrous tsunami in which thousands died. Lloyd Parry spent years visiting and interviewing the survivors, bringing back riveting accounts of what it means to have your life shattered by such a catastrophe and to live among the debris. These include one man’s description of being swallowed alive by the giant wave then spat out into the house of a relative which reads like a modern myth.

Ghosts of the Tsunami

By Richard Lloyd Parry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ghosts of the Tsunami as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**WINNER OF THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE**

'The definitive book on the quake which killed more than 15,000 people.' Mail Online
'You will not read a finer work of narrative non-fiction this year.' Economist
'A breathtaking, extraordinary work of non-fiction.' Times Literary Supplement
'A future classic of disaster journalism.' Observer

On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan. By the time the sea retreated, more than 18,500 people had been crushed, burned to death, or drowned.

It was Japan's greatest single loss of life since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. It…


China in the Tokugawa World

By Marius B. Jansen,

Book cover of China in the Tokugawa World

This book pairs well with Kaempfer’s History, because it challenges the notion that Japan was cut off from the rest of the world except for its relations with the Dutch VOC. The author (disclosure: my Ph.D. adviser at Princeton) challenges this idea of seclusion through his focus on Japan’s relationship with its closest Asian neighbors, particularly China, through the port of Nagasaki. The book skillfully analyzes the impact of the China trade on Japan’s political, economic, and cultural history. Based on a series of lectures, this relatively short book (160 pages) is quite an enjoyable read, even for people who already know a lot about the period.

China in the Tokugawa World

By Marius B. Jansen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China in the Tokugawa World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book challenges the traditional notion that Japan was an isolated nation cut off from the outside world and its influence in the early modern era. This familiar story of seclusion, argues master historian Marius B. Jansen, results from viewing the period solely in terms of Japan's ties with the West, at the expense of its relationship with closer Asian neighbours. Taking as his focus the port of Nagasaki and its thriving trade with China in the 16th century through the 19th centuries, Jansen not only corrects this misperception but offers an important analysis of the impact of the China…


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