Children of the Sun by Harry Allen
|Children of the Sun by Harry Allen|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: a well-researched and deeply moving story about children in North Korea caught listening to a forbidden radio. Beautifully told and one to remember.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 248||Date: September 2023|
Ra Eun Seo lives in a North Korean town and she is a talented singer. Life is hard and food is difficult to come by, so Seo and her friends Nari and Min go foraging every evening, looking for tree bark and edible grasses to supplement the meagre rations of rice and kimchi at home.
Naris is beautiful and gentle, both a loyal friend and loyal to the North Korean regime and the Great Successor. Min is a bit of a nerd - he always knows where to find the best forage and he sometimes says things that might be perceived as disloyal but really, they are things that are simply the product of a bright and curious mind. Seo loves to sing and she's good at it. She loves to sing patriotic North Korean songs because she too is loyal. All three absolutely believe that the world outside North Korea is full of lies and the Great Successor is protecting them from it.
But this doesn't make the self criticism sessions any easier. Or the executions. Or the disappearances, particularly when it's a favourite teacher who is taken away.
Out foraging one night, the three friends find a hidden radio. They can't resist listening and aren't sure what to make of what they hear - the advertisements for glamorous and luxurious-sounding items; recipes for food made from so many ingredients. And the songs! For Seo, the music coming from the radio is a revelation. It fills her soul. And so, when she is invited to Pyongyang to sing for the Great Commander's birthday festival, she takes the radio with her even though she knows how dangerous it is.
When the radio is inevitably discovered, Seo, Nari and Min are sent to a prison camp after being forced to denounce others. Will they ever be released? Can they escape? And even if they did, can they ever break free of the indoctrination they've been subject to for their entire lives?
Oh, I loved, loved, loved this story. At its heart, it's a traditional children's story about a reluctant hero overcoming tribulation and injustice and thereby coming of age. It's extremely well-written - tightly plotted, clear and flowing prose, credible and engaging characters, both goodies and baddies, and filled with the flavour of a well-researched oppressive society. Everything about Children of the Sun is high quality.
I loved Seo, a bright and intelligent girl whose conscience pricks at her and who has too much integrity to tamp down the little voice in her head pointing out the inconsistencies and injustices in her world. Fiercely loyal, it costs her a great deal to break free of her indoctrination and see what's happening for what it is. All of the characters in the story are well-rounded and credible, from Seo's friends Min and Nari, to Mrs Lim and other agents of the regime and Iseul, the strange, wild boy who has never known any other life than the prison camp.
It's hard to write about violence and cruelty and still be appropriate for a young audience but Allen has trodden the line well. There are some very unpleasant scenes in this book, including executions, but the focus is always on the three central characters and their journey - hopefully - into a world of light and truth.
I'll read this story again.
Adults interested in North Korea's secretive and repressive society could look at Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle.
You can read more about Harry Allen here.
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