cover image The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

The Boy Who Escaped Paradise

J.M. Lee, trans. from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim. Pegasus, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-68177-252-3

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. (Dec.)