Thursday, February 10, 2011

A mother's loss becomes an international incident

Over here in the US, we’re very luck that we border fairly reasonable countries.  We had some issues with Cuba a generation ago, and Mexico might be having some problems, but generally we’re not doing to badly with our next-door neighbors.

Japan, on the other hand, isn’t quite so lucky.  Just to the northwest is one of the most insular and unstable countries in the world.  A country with a history of dictator-for-life leaders even though the country is nominally communist.  A country where the leaders have ludicrous riches while the citizens not only cannot support themselves, but are starving while donated food rots in storage.

That country would be North Korea.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least 13 Japanese were abducted, mostly from coastal towns, with the intent of using them to train Korean spies to pass as Japanese citizens.  Although the rest were adults, Megumi Yokota was only 13 years old when she was kidnapped on her way home from school.  The police found a few of her belongings, but there is no other sign of what happened to her.

What follows in Sakie Yokota’s North Korea Kidnapped My Daughter is a decades-long quest by her parents to discover what happened to their beloved daughter.  It took North Korea until 2002 to officially admit that they had abducted Japanese citizens for their training camps.  Until then, the local police made the painful suggestions that perhaps Megumi had killed herself or simply run away.  Her parents, especially her mother, could no accept any of these theories, and never gave up their fight for justice.

As a piece of literature, however, it leaves quite a bit to be desired.  Revelations are few and far between, which is how life is.  Because of the long stretches without any new information, the book tends to drag on and seem rather dry, as the mother can only tell us about the lengths that she’s gone to find her daughter without any success.

The book also isn’t focused on the international aspect of the conflict.  There’s still a book out there to be written that focuses on all the people abducted by North Korea.  Citizens from South Korea, Japan, and even Russian and Europe have all disappeared.  This book is solely focused on the one family.

I also hesitate to criticize her directly on the quality of the writing.  Vertical is a fairly small publishing company, and is not used to publishing novels or nonfiction.  It could easily be the fault of the translator that the writing comes across as so stilted and formal to American ears.  It could also be the writing style of the people of Sakie Yokota’s generation.  In general, Japanese speech among adults is more formal than in the US, so that might be how their writing is as well.  An especially good translator would have changed the cadence of the writing to what the region’s readers are accustomed to, but that might not have been done here.

All around, the information is interesting and not found anywhere else in the US.  While the writing is a bit reminiscent of a Dateline NBC episode, it’s an in-depth look at how mothers in other countries cope with some of the hardest events in life.

Highs:  The government finally starting to pursue the case as a kidnapping

Lows:  Dealing with local police

Verdict:  Worth reading for the information, though not necessarily for pleasure reading

Further Reading:  The Reluctant Communist, Pyongyang

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