What We Are Reading Today: A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church

Updated 14 June 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church

Secretive North Korea is not an obvious choice as the location for a detective story, not least because it is so impenetrable to the outsider.

But Asia specialists say this novel offers a vivid window into the mysterious country.

One expert called it “the best unclassified account of how North Korea works and why it has survived all these years.”

The protagonist is Inspector O, whose investigation into a murder at the Koryo Hotel pitches him into a deadly contest between powerful factions in the regime.

The nation’s leader is never mentioned by name, but his shadow stalks every chapter. The inspector is a man struggling to hold on to his humanity in a world where humanity has little value.

The depth of detail is perhaps less surprising when you learn that James Church is the nom de plume of a former Western intelligence officer who spent years in Korea.

But it more than justifies the verdict of Newt Gingrich, the former Republican US presidential hopeful, who declared the book “a must-read” for anyone trying to understand the Kim dynasty of dictators.

This truly original thriller is about much more than a crime investigation.


The Six: Celebrate the Man Booker announcement with these regional reads

Books from the Middle East to read. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 October 2018
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The Six: Celebrate the Man Booker announcement with these regional reads

DUBAI: With the 2018 Man Booker prize being announced on Tuesday, we take a look at six books from the Middle East that deserve to be read before the year is over.

‘Where the Bird Disappeared’
Taking inspiration from the stories of Prophet Zakariyya and his son Yahya, Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s book is a beautiful novel set in the village of Zakariyya, in modern-day Palestine.

‘Ascension to Death’
Syrian novelist Mamdouh Azzam tells the story of a young girl’s fate in a southern Syrian village.

‘Tippu Tip’
Stuart Laing writes a biography that transports the reader into an extraordinary world with an exotic cast of characters.

‘Elsewhere, Home’
Written by Leila Aboulela, the book is an enchanting collection of short stories that stretch from Khartoum to Scotland.

‘The Merchant of Syria’
Diana Darke interweaves the story of a cloth merchant with the development of Syria in an insightful look at the life of a businessman who expands his trade.

‘The Baghdad Clock’
Shahad Al-Rawi’s extraordinary novel turns life in embattled Iraq into a fantastical world of characters and memories by following two young girls who meet during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.