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The Boy Who Escaped Paradise (2016)
J.M. Lee (author) / Chi-Young Kim (translator)

After a body is found surrounded by mathematical formulas in Queens, a young Korean man named Gil-Mo is arrested for the murder. Because of his autistic tendencies, he does not respond at all to the usual interrogation techniques and only opens up to a woman who shares his interest in puzzles and asks about the mathematical clues that were left around the body. Through their interactions, we learn his life story which begins in North Korea where he is first lauded for his mathematical abilities before winding up in a prison camp. Throughout his adventures -- which find him becoming rich through gambling and investing, working as a sushi chef, involved in organized crime, and crossing illegally from Mexico into America -- he is motivated by his love of mathematics and of the girl he met in the North Korean prison camp.

For me, the most interesting thing about this book was the North Korean setting. I do not know how accurately it was portrayed by the author (who is South Korean), but I certainly feel as if I learned some things about the situation of North Korean citizens and defectors.

As for the mathematics, there is quite a lot of it throughout the book. Gil-Mo himself is the narrator and so we see the world with his mathematical bias. Even things that are not especially mathematical are described in mathematical terms, and a key plot device is the mathematical "code" that he and the girl use to communicate. Many of the usual pieces of popular mathematics make an appearance: the Fibonacci sequence, integers with cute and unusual properties, the Golden Ratio, the Poincare Conjecture, number sequences (and their non-uniqueness when given only a finite subsequence), etc. The explanation of Benford's law was sufficiently clear that a reader who had not previously heard about it could both become interested in and learn something about it. Otherwise, the mathematical ideas are not particularly well described (though some of the small errors I noticed may have been introduced in the English translation) and are likely to already be familiar to many readers with interests in mathematics. So, from a mathematical perspective this book is not particularly informative even by the standards of fiction, but it does effectively use math to shape the character and life trajectory of the character of Gil-Mo.

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Works Similar to The Boy Who Escaped Paradise
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  4. One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin (Author) / Christiana Hills (Translator)
  5. The Trachtenberg Speed System by Buzz Mauro
  6. The First Circle by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  7. Improbable by Adam Fawer
  8. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
  9. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  10. Travelling Salesman by Andy Lanzone (writer) / Timothy Lanzone (director and writer)
Ratings for The Boy Who Escaped Paradise:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
4/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (1 votes)

MotifProdigies, Anti-social Mathematicians, Autism, Math as Beautiful/Exciting/Useful,
TopicReal Mathematics,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)