This book. So, Adam Johnson did his research. He read all kinds of first-hand accounts of the lucky people who have escaped from North Korea. Based on those accounts and a lot of imagination, he made a long list of horrible things that could happen in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, then he figured out how to fit every single one of those atrocities into a novel. The title character is an orphan (or not, depending on who you believe), turned tunnel fighter, turned kidnapper, turned translator/spy, turned hero, turned prisoner, turned... Well, you get the idea, and I don't want to spoil the second half of the book.
The subject matter sounds bleak, and Johnson successfully creates the dark feel that one can only imagine a totalitarian state must have. And yet, it's funny. This is dark, dark, politically satirical humor at its best. Part of me wanted to not like this novel, because of the endless list of "atrocities to include" that I mentioned above, but I couldn't help but get sucked in. Johnson managed to make me laugh at the same time that chills were running down my spine. Kim Jong-Il made his job much easier, of course. How many real-life characters could be both utterly ridiculous and terrifying at the same time?
Johnson's plotting is equally as artful as his prose. I found myself flipping backward through the novel and then smacking myself in the forehead as I pieced together the little clues he scattered through-out the second half of the book. I felt the second half was much stronger than the first, with multiple points of view (including a propagandized version of events broadcast through loud-speakers), alternating time-lines, etc., but I don't think it would have been as strong without the more straight-forward narrative of the first half to set the stage.