An astonishing story of the mysteries, truths, and deceptions that follow the odyssey of Ahn Gilmo, a young math savant, as he escapes from the most isolated country in the world and searches for the only family he has left
An unidentified body is discovered in New York City, with numbers and symbols are written in blood near the corpse. Gilmo, a North Korean national who interprets the world through numbers, formulas, and mathematical theories, is arrested on the spot. Angela, a CIA operative, is assigned to gain his trust and access his unique thought-process.
The enigmatic Gilmo used to have a quite life back in Pyongyang. But when his father, a preeminent doctor is discovered to be a secret Christian, he is subsequently incarcerated along with Gilmo, in a political prison overseen by a harsh, cruel warden.
There, he meets the spirited Yeong-ae, who becomes his only friend. When Yeong-ae manages to escape, Gilmo flees to track her down. He uses his peculiar gifts to navigate betrayal and the criminal underworld of east Asia—a world wholly alien to everything he's ever known.
In The Boy Who Escaped Paradise, celebrated author J. M. Lee delves into a hidden world filled with vivid characters trapped by ideology, greed, and despair. Gilmo's saga forces the reader to question the line between good and evil, truth and falsehood, captivity and freedom.
Lee (The Investigation) begins this novel of lies and truths with a news story and a mystery: the body of a former North Korean citizen is found in Queens, N.Y., with mysterious numbers etched in blood around the body, and Gil-Mo, a mathematically gifted immigrant from North Korea, is arrested for the crime. Gil-Mo is unable to remember whether he did the murder, or how he arrived at the crime scene. Although he is reluctant to talk, he opens up to Angela Stowe, a CIA operative posing as the attending nurse. As a child in North Korea, he was a math prodigy before being sent to a prison camp with his father, where he falls in love, uses his mathematical skills to get close to a fearsome warden, and eventually escapes. Lee's novel deals not only with mathematical truths and whether they can be manipulated, but also with the deceptions and connections of languages: "A beautiful thing in one language became something tragic in another." Gil-Mo uses math to maintain his connection to the larger world while his own culture slowly dissipates. "The disappearance of our language means that a world, an entire universe, is vanishing." Lee's brilliant narrator is, paradoxically both unreliable and incapable of twisting the truth; despite a sometimes-halting pace, the novel is a smart, riveting read.