Brother’s Keeper

Written by Julie Lee
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In North Korea during 1950, families live under the complete control of the Worker’s Party. The state has outlawed religion, installed Marxist dialectics as the mandatory educational curriculum for all students, and re-distributed people’s personal property according to “socially just” dictates. Those suspected of being “capitalist bourgeois pigs” are taken away to be imprisoned in labor camps or simply executed. It seems everyone is now poor, frightened and miserable. Then everything gets even worse.

On June 25, 1950, 75,000 North Korean soldiers pour across the 38th Parallel into South Korea, beginning a war. Twelve-year-old Pak Sora, her parents, and her two younger brothers make the potentially deadly decision to flee North Korea and join relatives in the far south in Busan. Sora and her eight-year old brother soon get separated from the others and she must bear the responsibility of getting her lovable but easily distracted brother safely through hundreds of miles of freezing weather, brutal terrain, and full-scale combat. She encounters threatening soldiers, strafing and bombing jets, and friendly and hostile fellow refugees. Finally, she reaches the south only to face new challenges and difficulties.

Based on a genuine family history, Brother’s Keeper is a magnificent and emotion-laden first novel written by a natural storyteller. It is also a tragic and heart-rending insight into the all-too-common tale of the hundreds of thousands of pitiful refugees who have fled Communist governments in their own countries over the past 100 years all across the planet. Despite all that, this is ultimately an uplifting book. Sora will inspire young and adult readers everywhere. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say Brother’s Keeper qualifies as an instant classic.