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Your Republic Is Calling You by Young-ha Kim

Your Republic Is Calling You (2006)

by Young-ha Kim

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1871496,172 (3.61)36

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He will have to go from an existence surrounded by books to one made up of walls. p. 56

The plot is interesting: a North Korean spy who has been living as a South Korean for 15 years without hearing from his handlers, is finally contacted to return to North Korea. By this time he has married and had a daughter. So now what? Take them? Leave them? They are unaware of his secret existence, which was easy to hide as he had no assignments the whole time. Or should he even respond? Is he a dead man if he does? What about if he doesn't? It is intriguing reading about what it is like to live outside of your own identity for so many years, having not just to learn a language or accent, but a different way of thinking and responding to EVERYTHING. As these things are addressed, so are the personal lives of his wife and daughter. These three people live very separate lives. And so we have the story of this dysfunctional family, which is not so unlike other families in many ways, as well as the spy story. This is not a thriller spy book, but rather the story of the characters. I'm giving it 3 1/2 stars, and will follow the author (this is his first book). ( )
  mkboylan | Feb 6, 2014 |
The story was entertaining but it really didn't do much for me. It's not something I think I will ever read again or even think about too much in the future...

No real suspense or action...just a linear line from start to finish.

The story is about a man from North Korea who is trained and sent to South Korea as a spy. The man’s “handler” gets “purged” and he spends 20+ years living in South Korea with a spy mission. Then…one day…he receives the “return home” order and his life is torn apart (in a very non-dramatic and somewhat slow/uneventful way). ( )
  Disco_grinch | Oct 8, 2013 |
Gi-yeong is a typical South Korean family man or so even his wife believes. He’s almost come to believe it himself until one day he gets a mysterious e-mail, recalling him to the home office and his duties as a North Korean spy. The book covers the 24 hours Gi-yeong has been given to report in. As he debates what to do and what to tell his family, he learns that his wife has some secrets of her own.

Like all of the translated fiction I’ve read so far, the writing style of Your Republic is Calling You was unlike any other book I’ve read. In some ways, it did remind me Murakami’s 1Q84. The sparse prose and the surreal feel of the events transpiring was very similar. Both books also have in common their inclusion of characters’ dreams, hopes, fears, sex lives, and most secret thoughts. This can be uncomfortable and would earn these books an R rating, but they’re also an amazing device for making characters seem like real people you know very well.

Despite these similarities, the content and tone of the book differentiated it completely from 1Q84. Murakami writes about mysterious hopes and desires, while Kim Young-ha writes about mysterious fear and dread. The magical realism of Murakami makes you see the magic in the most mundane of events, while Kim Young-ha’s thriller makes you see the mundane details influencing even the most extraordinary events. This book made me feel extremely uncomfortable throughout and is much darker than most books I enjoy. Other than the ending though, I really liked it anyway. The writing was beautiful and I loved the raw reality of the author’s descriptions. Sadly, the ending wasn’t even dark or tragic, it was just unresolved. That took a lot of the emotional punch out of the book and left me feeling as though the author just got tired of writing. However, even with the slightly disappointing ending, I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes Murakami or dark, psychological thrillers.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Aug 31, 2013 |
[Your Republic is Calling You] is the story of a North Korean who is sent out to live in South Korea as a spy. He is part of an effort to infiltrate the South. He moves South and becomes a South Korean (all planned before his departure from NK) and lives there for 20 years until he receives the notice to return to the North. The book's narrative centers on the day when the main character, Ki-Yong, receives the notice to return, with flashbacks to fill in the story. By this time, he is married and has a teen-age daughter, and has a small company with one employee. A pretty mundane, middle-class life one may say. I will not delve any deeper on this because I think one of the values of the novel is discovering the final resolution- the story is (sort of) a thriller; but a subdued thriller.

I gave the story three and a half stars, even though the story is interesting in and of itself. But his writing style is fairly pedestrian- the narrative flows through but there were not many sentences or paragraphs that made me want to read again either because there were beautifully written, or because they had interesting points or insights. Despite this, I would recommend this book as a good way to pass the time, and learn a little more about the tactics of the hermit kingdom and the lifestyle of South Korea. ( )
  xieouyang | Jan 5, 2013 |
Your Republic is Calling You is a fascinating book that almost unintentionally miscategorizes itself. It is commonly referred to as a "spy thriller", but I'm happy to say that it is not really much of one. There are indeed spy elements and a few scenes are genuinely exhilarating, but make no mistake; this isn't a North Korean version of Jason Bourne or James Bond. As entertaining as those franchises are, they've been done and they're predictable. Your Republic Is Calling You is so much more.

First off, it's a character-driven story chock-full of social commentary. The almost dozen supporting characters have plenty of back story and Kim boldly expounds upon each person's "undercover" life that he or she carries with them. Some are full of heartbreak, others are full of debauchery. Either way, it's a grippingly woven web of interrelated events miraculously occurring throughout the span of a single day. Everyone, it seems, has an undercover life, so to say, and the spy theme extends well beyond the protagonist.

Speaking of whom, Ki-Yong isn't your archetypal spy. He wasn't genetically engineered to possess superhuman perception skills or advanced martial arts training. He's just good at laying low, blending in, and not making a scene. After twenty years in North Korea, he infiltrated the South in the 80s and successfully gathered and reported data for some time. After his supervisor was ousted, time passed and soon his liaison office seemed to forget about Ki-Yong's quiet but secret existence. Eventually, his undercover life became his real life and he quietly settled into a uneventful middle-class actuality that feels more and more like reality. However, after a decade of no communication, he suddenly receives an encrypted message to return "home". He wonders if the message is intended to save his life from the South Korean government's persistent investigators or to bring him home in order to punish him for lazily adhering to his new capitalist lifestyle. The reader then follows Ki-Yong as he reacts to the news and tries to make sense of his former identity.

This is Kim Young-ha's fourth novel, which was originally published in 2006 under the title "빛의 제국", or "Empire of Light". I enjoyed Kim's portrayal of cultural identity crisis and applaud the translator for making it not only a salient ride, but also lots of fun. I recommend it for anyone looking at a unique take on South Korea's rapid commercialization and/or cultural identity confusion within Korea. Two thumbs up. ( )
1 vote matthew254 | Sep 9, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0151015457, Paperback)

A foreign film importer, Gi-yeong is a family man with a wife and daughter. An aficionado of Heineken, soccer, and sushi, he is also a North Korean spy who has been living among his enemies for twenty-one years.
Suddenly he receives a mysterious email, a directive seemingly from the home office. He has one day to return to headquarters. He hasn’t heard from anyone in over ten years. Why is he being called back now? Is this message really from Pyongyang? Is he returning to receive new orders or to be executed for a lack of diligence? Has someone in the South discovered his secret identity? Is this a trap?

Spanning the course of one day, Your Republic Is Calling You is an emotionally taut, psychologically astute, haunting novel that reveals the depth of one particularly gripping family secret and the way in which we sometimes never really know the people we love. Confronting moral questions on small and large scales, it mines the political and cultural transformations that have transformed South Korea since the 1980s. A lament for the fate of a certain kind of man and a certain kind of manhood, it is ultimately a searing study of the long and insidious effects of dividing a nation in two.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:26 -0400)

Foreign film importer Gi-yeong is a family man with a wife and daughter. He is also a North Korean spy who has been living among his enemies for 21 years. Suddenly he receives a mysterious e-mail directing him to return to headquarters in one day. Has someone in the South discovered his secret identity? Is this a trap?

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