Posts by Shadow Guide

FAQ: Have you ever been to North Korea?

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Author's Korean Connections, Novel: In the Shadow of the Sun, Novel: Research & Process, On Travel to Asia | Comments Off on FAQ: Have you ever been to North Korea?

No… and yes.

I’ve never officially visited the DPRK, but I have been in a speedboat cruising along the border with China — in North Korean waters!

I didn’t intend to do this.

In 2015, I was invited to speak at a school in Mongolia and a teachers conference in Malaysia. In between, I took myself to two Chinese cities, Beijing and Dandong. I wanted to see the Great Wall — the regular one, and the piece of it that’s in my novel: Hu Shan, or Tiger Mountain Great Wall.

When I got to my hotel in Dandong and stepped to the window of my room, I discovered that I had a view straight across the river to North Korea, just half a mile away.

Two days later, I set off on my journey to see Hu Shan Great Wall, a 20-minute drive east from Dandong. Through a series of unexpected developments, I ended up in this speedboat with a pilot and two Chinese tourists, cruising west on the Amnok/Yalu River. To the right (north) in this photo is China. To the left (south) is North Korea.

When we got near the North Korean coast, our boat pilot told us to stop taking photos. This is the closest one I got.

To the north, Hu Shan, or Tiger Mountain, from the river. You can barely make out the Wall, climbing the slope.

 

We got close to this island, to the north of us. I don’t speak Chinese, but I’d picked up the names of the two countries: “China?” I asked, pointing to the island. The pilot shook his head. “North Korea,” he said. So if it was North Korea to our right, and to our left… then we were technically in North Korea!

I waved to the woman on the shore tending goats, and called a greeting to her in Korean. She beamed and waved back.

On the way back to the boat dock, we pulled up to this sandbar where a couple of North Koreans had a boat with products for sale — cigarettes, preserved eggs. When the Chinese men didn’t buy anything, the entrepreneurs muttered curses about them in Korean.

A few hours later, I was sitting on Tiger Mountain Great Wall, looking out over the North Korean countryside (the straight line cutting diagonally through the middle of the photo is the border; beyond is the North Korean island, then the river where we cruised, and finally the North Korean mainland).

So that was it, my trip to North Korea.

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Listen to the Opening of the Audiobook

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 in Novel: In the Shadow of the Sun | Comments Off on Listen to the Opening of the Audiobook

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A “nuanced portrayal of North Korea”

Posted by on May 28, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A “nuanced portrayal of North Korea”

From Publishers Weekly:

 In her first novel, picture book author O’Brien (I’m New Here) presents a nuanced portrayal of North Korea; the government is restrictive and the police force divided, but the citizens’ complex perspectives and attitudes are revealed in thoughtful, interspersed dispatches. Mia’s reflections about being Korean in Connecticut versus in Korea are powerful, as is her assertion that she is “growing into both her names.”

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A “fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller”

Posted by on May 28, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A “fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller”

From Booklist:

O’Brien weaves plenty of information about the country through the story, and interspersed sections describing the experiences of some of the North Koreans they meet on their trip add depth. Mia, who was adopted from South Korea by a white American family, offers some thought-provoking insight into the experience of interracial adoption. This fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller, made all the more compelling for its fascinating setting, should find broad appeal.

 

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“Cultural Accuracy and Historical Veracity”

Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Novel: In the Shadow of the Sun, Novel: Press & Reviews | Comments Off on “Cultural Accuracy and Historical Veracity”

 

Thank you to Korean American Readings for this review of In The Shadow of the Sun.

“It’s been a while since I read a book, YA or adult, that captured me so thoroughly that I didn’t want to stop reading, and that I couldn’t stop thinking about until I finished reading it. IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN was such a book. It follows Korean adoptee Mia Andrews and her brother Simon on a tour gone terribly wrong that devolves into a frightening and thrilling journey in one of the most closed countries on earth, North Korea. The author, who grew up in South Korea, has done thorough homework—the story feels authentic and the details ring with the truth of cultural accuracy and historical veracity. The book has a unique structure that includes a smart introduction to North Korea via a “travel guide,” and short interludes of voices of certain North Korean characters whom the youth encounter, if only briefly, on their harrowing journey. This combination brings a wider perspective on Mia and Simon’s dilemma, and gives valuable glimpses of a varied and complex North Korean society and daily life. While the action is a page-turner, Mia’s inner journey of identity and courage, as well as Simon’s, and the shift in their brother-and-sister relationship is equally authentic and compelling. Mirroring today’s political dilemma with issues of trust with North Korea, Mia and Simon are constantly confronted with questions about who to trust, and their instincts and choices are a lesson for us all. A terrific book about how a girl’s daunting journey enriches her inner journey, and a story and setting that expands one’s understanding of this country that is often in the news, and about which little is known.”

—Eugenia Kim, Korean American Readings

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