Brandon Jones' debut novel follows two orphaned girls through their brutal upbringing in a North Korean factory, across the North and South Korean borders into a sex trafficking market that spans from the Orient to the United States. This profound and shocking story presents a poignant psychological and political portrait of the many forms of human imprisonment.
ALL WOMAN AND SPRINGTIME is a serious, well-written, starkly affecting novel that is thoughtful on many levels --- human, philosophical and political. The book presents a distinct picture of the propaganda machine" of North Korea, showing visions of a "utopian" socialist society that has failed completely, transformed into a brutal totalitarian regime. North Korean citizens serve what amounts to a life sentence, and two girlfriends who've been orphaned at the hands of the North Korean government live as "Chosun" by the savage grace of their "Dear Leader," Kim Il-sung. This dictator allows his people extremely limited privileges that include simple survival, daily reprieve from physical and psychological torture --- provided his workers perform up to standards --- and the simple ability to eat reasonably well as long as everyone remains strictly obedient to whatever he desires and thinks.
The two girls who form the subject of this novel are close friends from the orphanage where they grew up. Gyong-ho and Il-Sun were slaves to their own government long before they were sold into the sex slave market. Like all citizens, they have learned since birth to prostrate to their leader, carry mementos of worship that liken him to a god, and labor even as children. Kept under lock and key, they are possessions. The psychological component of their suffering is complex and varies with the many kinds of imprisonment they face.
Death itself is a release in this situation of daily oppression. All of North Korea closely resembles a concentration camp, but the girls' experiences in other countries are even worse. This book explores friendship and the idea that simple companionship allows the possibility of endurance. The girls come of age working in a sweatshop and look to their future with hope about the prospect of falling in love and "becoming a woman." They are betrayed by their own human needs, at the core of these the essential desire to be loved and cherished. Completely innocent and convinced that she's falling in love, Il-Sun falls head-on into a trap laid by a man who lures her out of the country along with many other girls, including her friend Gyong-ho. Once they discover the man they trusted has sold them into a life of permanent captivity, it's too late for any of them.
People living in North Korea are surrounded by death, loss of whole families, food shortages, black-market trades, national production quotas, forbidden love and religion, and disturbing levels of individual corruption. Even so, there exists in any world a certain degree of rebellion and insurgence of individualism that are the natural result of the human spirit needing to express and release itself. The will to survive and endure helps some rebel and hope for a better future.
The most shocking aspect of the book is the ending, which occurs under the radar in the United States in a situation of forced prostitution. This is a worthy read for anyone who enjoys a gritty, intense, meaningful story, particularly those who loved MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. As a debut, it's an impressive creation that provides a great deal of food for thought about themes relating to politics and humanity. Its focus is on corruption, but its key message is about the power of the human spirit to endure.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith