Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Until this year I'm not sure I had read any books that took place in Korea and certainly none that talked about life north of the DMZ. Debut author Brandon W. Jones was inspired to write All Woman and Springtime after thinking about the ramifications of living in a tightly controlled society.
Here is the back-of-the-book summary:
Before she met Il-sun in an orphanage, Gi was a hollow husk of a girl, broken from growing up in one of North Korea’s forced-labor camps. A mathematical genius, she has learned to cope with pain by retreating into a realm of numbers and calculations, an escape from both the past and present. Gi becomes enamored of the brash and radiant Il-sun, a friend she describes as "all woman and springtime." But Il-sun’s pursuit of a better life imperils both girls when her suitor spirits them across the Demilitarized Zone and sells them as sex workers, first in South Korea and then in the United States.There are several things about this novel that intrigue me, but I'm particularly interested in everyday life in North Korea. As Jones notes in an interview provided by Algonquin, it is "difficult to get reliable information out of the country." Although the bulk of his research was conducted in libraries and online, he was fortunate enough to track down a couple of firsthand accounts, which helped him create a fairly authentic description of life under Kim Jong-il.
This spellbinding debut, reminiscent of Memoirs of a Geisha, depicts—with chilling accuracy—life behind North Korea’s iron curtain. But for Gi and Il-sun, forced into the underworld of human trafficking, their captivity outside North Korea is far crueler than the tight control of their "Dear Leader." Tenderhearted Gi, just on the verge of womanhood, is consigned to a fate that threatens not only her body but her mind. How she and Il-sun endure, how they find a path to healing, is what drives this absorbing and exquisite novel—from an exciting young Algonquin discovery—to its perfectly imagined conclusion.
The other aspect of All Woman and Springtime that caught my attention is its focus on sex trafficking. For those of us who live in free, modern countries, it's hard to believe that sex slavery still occurs. One important point Jones makes is that sex trafficking may start in underdeveloped countries but its victims often end up in the major metropolitan areas of our own countries. Something to think about.
This is a novel that can be read from a number of viewpoints. It certainly discusses the political and social issues I just mentioned, but it's also about friendship, survival, and a rather brutal awakening into adulthood. In a post on The Page 69 Test, Jones says, "All Woman and Springtime is about crossing boundaries of all kinds, about universal humanity that transcends borders and cultures, about taking charge of one’s own destiny."
Here a quick peek into the novel. On the first page, Gi is watching the sewing machine needle while working in a factory:
She watched intently as the needle danced across the rough fabric, plunging in and out of the cloth with methodic violence—she was amazed the fabric did not bleed. It was a paradox of sewing, that such brutality could bind two things together.And so it was to be between Gi and her friend Il-sun.
All Woman and Springtime is an Indie Next pick for May 2012. To learn more about Brandon Jones, visit his website. There you'll find an excerpt from the novel, an audiobook sample, a fascinating essay on the writing of the book, and Jones's tour schedule. You can also follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.
Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.