Robert S. Boynton describes his book as "extreme journalism," which he defines as "reporting on a series of events spanning several decades, in three countries, in two languages I don't speak."

The Invitation-Only Zone, by Robert S. Boynton
288 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Nonfiction.

The abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea is an extreme story, and often hard to believe, but "The Invitation-Only Zone" is a clear, objective account of the situation.

Through in-depth interviews, Boynton shows the harrowing experience of the abductees and the heartbreak of families who, in many cases, still do not know what happened to their loved ones.

Kaoru Hasuike's story forms the backbone of the book and Boynton's sympathetic narrative follows him as he is bundled into a boat and taken to North Korea, through to his indoctrination and eventual acceptance of his new life under sufferance. It is a tale of the remarkable strength of the human spirit.

Boynton expertly balances each personal story with a wider analysis of contextual history, and this is where the book's real value lies — by looking beyond the filter of recent history.

It is hard to believe there was a time when the life offered in North Korea could be considered better, but in the 1950s and '60s that was the case for some. With the repression of the political left during the U.S. Occupation and the failure of the '60s student movement, many disillusioned socialists looked outside Japan for a sliver of hope.

The book concludes by looking at the abductions in light of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's nationalism and militarism, reminding us that the past is more nuanced than most narratives permit. A timely and important book.