100 books like The Invitation-Only Zone

By Robert S. Boynton,

Here are 100 books that The Invitation-Only Zone fans have personally recommended if you like The Invitation-Only Zone. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Author Of In Defense of Universal Human Rights

From my list on readable stories on human rights.

Who am I?

I am a scholar of international human rights and comparative genocide studies. My father was a refugee from the Holocaust. So I was always interested in genocide, but I did not want to be another Holocaust scholar. Instead, I introduced one of the first university courses in Canada on comparative genocide studies. From a very young age, I was also very interested in social justice: I was seven when Emmett Till was murdered in the US. So when I became a professor, I decided to specialize in international human rights. I read a lot of “world literature” fiction that helps me to empathize with people in places I’ve never been.

Rhoda's book list on readable stories on human rights

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Why did Rhoda love this book?

This was the first book I read on North Korea.

North Korea is a combination of the Soviet Gulag and Auschwitz. Under the reign of the three Kims (grandfather, father, and son), North Koreans have endured malnourishment and starvation since the 1990s. Most of this would been avoidable if the government hadn’t had ridiculous economic policies forbidding private enterprise, and also imprisoned anyone who criticized the Kims’ rule. 

Remick is a journalist who introduces North Korea to a general audience by interviewing six refugees.  I “assigned” this book to one of my ladies’ book clubs and they found it very interesting and easy to read.

By Barbara Demick,

Why should I read it?

4 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…


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

Wendy Bashant Author Of The Same Bright Moon: Teaching China's New Generation During Covid

From my list on teaching abroad.

Who am I?

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and a traveler for longer. As a child, I lived in Germany and Japan. When I grew up, I continued to travel, teaching and living in Thailand, London, and China. I’ve written book chapters, poetry, travel pieces, and won a number of writing prizes: the 2023 New York Book Festival prize and a finalist for both the Peter Taylor Prize for Literature and the Gival Press Novel Award. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and University of Rochester (PhD), I now live in San Diego with my husband and two cats, teach adult literacy, and work as a volunteer at the San Diego Zoo.

Wendy's book list on teaching abroad

Wendy Bashant Why did Wendy love this book?

Whereas Hessler’s book is about a country gradually opening up to the west, Suki Kim’s book is about a country completely isolated.

Kim works for six months in North Korea at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the boys of the ruling elite. While living there, rather than connecting with her students, she is unsettled by how deep the country’s deceptions are.

The university, although claiming to be a school for science and industry, has neither labs nor modern technology. Her travel is circumscribed and carefully scripted. The students lie effortlessly about things of little consequence. The entire country seems to be built on holograms and shadows. She travels as teacher, but in the end serves as journalist, seeking the truth behind a country that the world barely understands. 

By Suki Kim,

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…


Book cover of Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea

Paul Fischer Author Of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

From my list on North Korea.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by niche film world stories, and the kidnapping of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee was my way in to North Korea, a country I was a layman about until I started researching A Kim Jong-Il Production. One thing I’ve found, through the writing of that book, traveling to North Korea, and the ensuing book tour, is that it’s a country it’s impossible not to be obsessed with once you’ve scratched the surface. The struggles and lives of ordinary people – in the face of such a repressive authoritarian regime – are unforgettable.

Paul's book list on North Korea

Paul Fischer Why did Paul love this book?

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.

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,…


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

Paul Fischer Author Of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

From my list on North Korea.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by niche film world stories, and the kidnapping of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee was my way in to North Korea, a country I was a layman about until I started researching A Kim Jong-Il Production. One thing I’ve found, through the writing of that book, traveling to North Korea, and the ensuing book tour, is that it’s a country it’s impossible not to be obsessed with once you’ve scratched the surface. The struggles and lives of ordinary people – in the face of such a repressive authoritarian regime – are unforgettable.

Paul's book list on North Korea

Paul Fischer Why did Paul love this book?

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.

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


Book cover of Rage

Tori Eldridge Author Of The Ninja Daughter

From my list on thrillers with action, emotion, and diversity.

Who am I?

As a multicultural author, born in Honolulu of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent, I am drawn to mainstream thrillers that feature diverse characters and explore non-mainstream cultures. Since I also hold a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninja martial arts and have traveled the United States teaching martial arts and empowerment, authentic fight scenes in fiction are a must! Nothing turns me off quicker than a shallow representation of culturally diverse characters or mundane and improbable action. I strive for authenticity, emotion, and page-turning action in my Lily Wong ninja thrillers, so it’s probably no surprise that I value these elements in the novels I read.

Tori's book list on thrillers with action, emotion, and diversity

Tori Eldridge Why did Tori love this book?

Jonathan Maberry amps up the danger, risk, and action with his first book in the Joe Ledger International series. As always, his science is terrifyingly real, especially when spun into current politics. As a fellow, master martial arts practitioner, Maberry’s fight scenes are always top-notch. But the true gem, for me, of this book and the Joe Ledger series lies in the raw emotion of his protagonist and the authentically diverse voices of his supporting characters.

By Jonathan Maberry,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From New York Times Bestselling author (creator of the Netflix series V Wars), Jonathan Maberry comes the first in a brand new series featuring Joe Ledger and Rogue Team International.

A small island off the coast of Korea is torn apart by a bio-weapon that drives everyone - men, women, and children - insane with murderous rage. The people behind the attack want Korea reunified or destroyed. No middle ground. No mercy. Soon Japan, China, and the United States are pushed to the brink of war, while terrorists threaten to release the rage bio-weapon in a way of pure destructive…


Book cover of The Orphan Master's Son

Robert S. Boynton Author Of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

From my list on understanding North Korea.

Who am I?

I became fascinated by North Korea during a six-month fellowship in Tokyo in 2008. Japan was still dealing with the aftermath of the return of some of its abducted citizens in 2002. It turned out that North Korea had been abducting people—South Koreans, Japanese, and others—since the 1970s. I began interviewing some of the returnees and embarked on an eight-year journey that took me back to Japan and South Korea many times. Throughout my research and reporting, I became convinced that the truth of the abductions, much like the truth of the region, lay between Korea and Japan. I was drawn to books that tried to come to terms with the uncomfortable relationship between two cultures whose similarities are trumped by their mutual animosity.

Robert's book list on understanding North Korea

Robert S. Boynton Why did Robert love this book?

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.

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…


Book cover of The Inland Sea

Jonathan DeHart Author Of Moon Japan: Plan Your Trip, Avoid the Crowds, and Experience the Real Japan

From my list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan.

Who am I?

I’m a Tokyo-based writer who first came to Japan during university to live with a host family and study the language. After a stint in Shanghai, Japan brought me back in 2012 and I’ve lived here ever since. I’ve cycled across remote Okinawan islands, wandered Kyoto’s cobblestone lanes, and trekked to mountaintop temples in heavy snow. But some of my best memories have happened over homemade plum wine at a friend’s dinner table. I’ve written two books published by Moon Travel Guides and countless articles on Asia, with some being chosen for “best of” lists by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, and Real Clear World

Jonathan's book list on evoking a deep, personal discovery of Japan

Jonathan DeHart Why did Jonathan love this book?

Written by the 20th century’s leading interpreter of things Japanese, this travel memoir has a timeless, elegiac quality. Donald Richie lived in Tokyo, but he based this work on a series of trips through the waterways and fishing villages of the glittering Inland Sea. Beyond his beautiful sketches of the seascape itself, his warm, human interactions with fishermen, aunties, merchants, and monks give voice to a disappearing side of Japan. They also serve as a mirror into the metaphorical inland sea within himself––the good, bad, and ugly––which he freely reveals. Seeing the world Richie describes vanish evermore in the decades since, the book’s resonance only grows with age. This is why I find myself diving back into it again and again.

By Donald Richie, Yoichi Midorikawa (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"An elegiac prose celebration ...a classic in its genre."-Publishers Weekly In this acclaimed travel memoir, Donald Richie paints a memorable portrait of the island-studded Inland Sea. His existential ruminations on food, culture, and love and his brilliant descriptions of life and landscape are a window into an Old Japan that has now nearly vanished. Included are the twenty black and white photographs by Yoichi Midorikawa that accompanied the original 1971 edition. Donald Richie (1924-2013) was an internationally recognized expert on Japanese culture and film. Yoichi Midorikawa (1915-2001) was one of Japan's foremost nature photographers.


Book cover of Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice

Bryan S. Turner Author Of The Body in Asia

From my list on making you wish you lived in Asia.

Who am I?

As an undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the 1960s the principal influence on my life and thinking was Trevor Ling an Anglican Priest and Buddhist who eventually became a Professor of comparative religion at the University of Manchester. He was the start of my research on Islam and Asia and my peripatetic career having lived in Scotland, Germany, Holland, America, Australia and Singapore. I became a professor of the sociology of religion in the Asia Research Center at the National University of Singapore. I have published two books on Singapore, a handbook of religions in Asia, and several works on the body, medicine, ageing and human vulnerability.

Bryan's book list on making you wish you lived in Asia

Bryan S. Turner Why did Bryan love this book?

For me book covers are part of the joy of owning books. My choices are all partly connected to the message conveyed by their covers. On this cover there are the objects associated with the ritual of tea drinking. In my view, we (in the West) have lost too many everyday rituals that make life meaningful. Surak shows the historical connections between the rituals that surround Japanese tea making and the making of society itself.

By Kristin Surak,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The tea ceremony persists as one of the most evocative symbols of Japan. Originally a pastime of elite warriors in premodern society, it was later recast as an emblem of the modern Japanese state, only to be transformed again into its current incarnation, largely the hobby of middle-class housewives. How does the cultural practice of a few come to represent a nation as a whole?

Although few non-Japanese scholars have peered behind the walls of a tea room, sociologist Kristin Surak came to know the inner workings of the tea world over the course of ten years of tea training.…


Book cover of A Clean Kill in Tokyo

Philippe Espinasse Author Of Hard Underwriting

From my list on thrillers set in Asia.

Who am I?

I've lived in Asia for more than 22 years and have extensively traveled around the region, both for work and pleasure, from the Middle East and central Asia to Japan, and Australia, New Zealand, and every country in between. Asia is the perfect setting for a thriller, as a region that’s deeply rooted in traditions, but where modernity and growth are also breathless. There can be political instability at times, and even corruption, unsurpassed wealth and shocking poverty, bankers, and prostitutes. I worked for many years as an investment banker and my experiences inspired me to write my debut thriller, Hard Underwriting, in Hong Kong, and uncover the dark side of Asia’s financial capital. 

Philippe's book list on thrillers set in Asia

Philippe Espinasse Why did Philippe love this book?

This is one of the best books in Eisler’s John Rain series, featuring half-American, half-Japanese assassin and Vietnam veteran John Rain.

Eisler himself was a covert operative with the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and his descriptions of fieldcraft, surveillance, torture, and killing techniques all ring so true, as does his extensive knowledge of modern Japan.

Tokyo is, of course, a fascinating playground for Rain’s adventures. Eisler’s books and unputdownable, and well worth discovering.

By Barry Eisler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Clean Kill in Tokyo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Previously published as Rain Fall

Name: John Rain.
Vocation: Assassin.
Specialty: Natural Causes.
Base of operations: Tokyo.
Availability: Worldwide.

Half American, half Japanese, expert in both worlds but at home in neither, John Rain is the best killer money can buy. You tell him who. You tell him where. He doesn’t care about why…

Until he gets involved with Midori Kawamura, a beautiful jazz pianist—and the daughter of his latest kill.

A Clean Kill in Tokyo was previously published as Rain Fall, the first in the bestselling John Rain assassin series.


Book cover of Kitchen

Marian Frances Wolbers Author Of Rider

From my list on a sweet journey into Japan.

Who am I?

I’ve been enjoying Japanese stories from the moment I first found them, a direct result of living, studying, and working in Japan for five years, from Imari City (in Kyushu Island) to Tokyo (on Honshu). The pacing of Japanese novels—starting out slowly and deliberately, then speeding up like a tsunami out of nowhere—totally appeals to me, and feels infinitely more connected to exploring the subtleties, complexity, and beauty of relationships. This is especially true when compared to Western novels, which seem overly obsessed with splashing grand, dramatic action and injury on every other page. I just love revisiting Japan through reading.

Marian's book list on a sweet journey into Japan

Marian Frances Wolbers Why did Marian love this book?

Kitchen is an utterly charming short novel by a modern writer whose protagonist, Mikage, is a young woman who must find a way to carry on after the death of her beloved grandmother who served as her sole caregiver-guardian. Her voice engages immediately: “The place I like best in this world is the kitchen.” Orphaned amidst the bustling world around her, Mikage hesitatingly accepts an invitation to move in with Yuichi, a boy who’d worked part-time in her grandmother’s flower shop. His situation is also unusual, as he lives with his trans mother—an elegant woman who actually is his biological father. Food serves as a compelling bond and plot twister. Expect lots of food and cooking in this novel, plus generous doses of pure kindness and unconditional love. 

By Banana Yoshimoto, Megan Backus (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Kitchen juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuality, bereavement, kitchens, love and tragedy in contemporary Japan. It is a startlingly original first work by Japan's brightest young literary star and is now a cult film.

When Kitchen was first published in Japan in 1987 it won two of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, climbed its way to the top of the bestseller lists, then remained there for over a year and sold millions of copies. Banana Yoshimoto was hailed as a young writer of great talent and great passion whose work has quickly earned a place among the best of modern…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japan, kidnapping, and North Korea?

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