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The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
Cover of The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
A Novel
by J. M. Lee

An astonishing story of the mysteries dividing truth and deception that follows the odyssey of Ahn Gil­mo, a young autistic math genius, 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, 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.

An astonishing story of the mysteries dividing truth and deception that follows the odyssey of Ahn Gil­mo, a young autistic math genius, 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, 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.

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About the Author-
  • J. M. Lee has sold hundreds of thousands of books in his native Korea. One, Deep Rooted Tree, was made into a popular T.V. series. He is the author of The Investigation, also published by Pegasus Books.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 26, 2016
    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.

  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2016
    A North Korean whiz kid tries for a slice of the happiness pie, and complications ensue.Child geniuses, in literature, are sometimes frightening, as in Helen DeWitt's The Last Samuraior maybe David Seltzer's The Omen. As often, they're simply strange and sometimes pathetic. That's the case with Gil-mo, who's no longer young; he says he's 6, but that's because he was born on the leap year day of Feb. 29. Numbers are everything to him: "Two unknown variables and one constant--c1 is death and c2 is the murderer, and I am the constant," he thinks as the book opens, in a scene where, once again, he is in a cell, this time in New York. Once again because, back in his homeland of North Korea--a place Lee, well known as a pop novelist on the other side of the DMZ, describes with aching nostalgia ("the city of weeping willows, the one I left long ago...")--the young mathematical genius ran afoul of the regime for reasons entirely not of his doing, there to be caught up in an elaborate scheme. Throw in murder, the coefficient of drag, scams, the Fibonacci sequence, and the clink, and you have a Venn diagram in which The Shawshank Redemption and the script to Darren Aronofsky's first film, Pi, overlap. There are some fleetingly funny moments, some of them building on cultural misunderstanding--as when Gil-mo tries to get across the U.S. border, following the immigrant trail in Arizona, and, as he telepathically tells his Christian father, "[meets] Jesus," who "dip[s] me in the river and promise[s] me he would take me to America." It's nice to have a G-man named Russell Banks, too. Still, as the improbabilities in this probabilistic tale mount, the story begins to look ever more artificial and perhaps even allegorical, a tale in which capitalism and communism alike are found to be more than a little absurd. Read straight, it doesn't quite work, but as a Candide-like satire best read with a calculator to hand, it has its moments.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from November 15, 2016

    "There's magic in this world. And miracles." In his second translated work to hit stateside (after The Investigation), best-selling Korean author Lee will make you believe. His silent protagonist sits in a New York City cell, accused of murder and terrorism, his more notable possessions including four fake passports and 19 pages of mathematical formulas written in an unidentifiable language. The nurse in charge interrupts the aggressive FBI interrogation to care for his gunshot wound. Under her ministrations over the next seven days, the suspect will prove how "[n]umbers reveal our secrets," divulging a quest that originates in North Korea and lands in North America, with stopovers in China, Macau, South Korea, and Mexico, as the protagonist moves through a prison camp, casinos, hotel rooms, action flicks, and international markets--all to fulfill a childhood promise of everlasting care (and love). The narrative is again linguistically enabled by gifted translator Kim. VERDICT Channeling timeless quests from The Odyssey on, while highly reminiscent of the contemporary cult classic Vikas Swarup's Q&A (the literary inspiration for celluloid sensation Slumdog Millionaire), Lee's latest should guarantee exponential growth among savvy Western audiences searching for a universal story with global connections. In a phrase, read this.--Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus Reviews A North Korean whiz kid tries for a slice of the happiness pie, and complications ensue.
  • Shelf Awareness A reminder of the power of numbers, but one doesn't need to be a math fan to appreciate the brilliance of this work. The language is mesmerizing. An exciting adventure added to rich characters, all multiplied by stunning language, equals an unforgettable novel.
  • Library Journal (starred review) A haunting journey through the eyes of a young man with Asperger syndrome. Lee's novel touches on the literary need for character-driven stories that move beyond the strangeness and horror of life under the North Korean state. This, along with its thriller-like pace, make The Boy Who Escaped Paradise worth a read.
  • Publishers Weekly Lee creates a dignified and moving portrait of North Koreans' struggle for freedom at home and abroad, and intertwines it with a rogue genius adventure—all without sacrificing the appeal of either plot line. Another outstanding thriller from Lee (after The Investigation, 2015), whose novels have garnered massive acclaim in Korea.
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A Novel
J. M. Lee
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