Category Archives: North Korean

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick

Please allow me to share a so-called North Korean political joke: “Kim Jong Il and Vladimir Putin … decide to … see whose bodyguards are more loyal. Putin calls his bodyguard Ivan, opens the window of their twentieth-floor meeting room, and says: ‘Ivan, jump!’ Sobbing, Ivan says: ‘Mr. President, how can you ask me to do that? I have a wife and child waiting for me at home.’ Putin … apologizes to Ivan, and sends him away…. Kim Jong Il … calls his bodyguard…. ‘Lee Myung-man, jump!’…. Lee … is just about to jump … when Putin grabs him and says: ‘… If you jump out this window, you’ll die!…’ Lee … tries to escape Putin’s embrace and jump…: ‘President Putin, please let me go! I have a wife and child waiting for me at home!’

Ghastly humor aside, the tragic joke barely disguises the inhumane policies of the world’s most secretive, repressive regime. In Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad, former Wall Street Journal journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick documents the desperate, dangerous flight of North Koreans toward an uncertain new life. Drawing parallels with American slaves seeking freedom 150 years and continents apart, Kirkpatrick traces North Korean journeys through a network of clandestine routes, safe houses, and courageous individuals willing to compromise their own safety to help others.

For North Koreans attempting to escape starvation, torture, repression, and worse, the “new underground” begins just over the border in China. Because of China’s official political support of North Korea, the Chinese government refuses to recognize escapees as refugees (even though China has signed the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees). Nor does China allow the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to operate in the country.

North Koreans in China live constantly under threat of arrest and repatriation. Women are often trafficked, sold as “brides” in response to a shortage of partners in China (due to that country’s history of male preference that has created a “sex imbalance … [of] epic proportions).” The children of these North Korean/Chinese unions perhaps suffer the most, trapped in stateless limbo: The fear of exposing a North Korean mother’s illegal status prevents a Chinese father from officially registering the child who, in effect, doesn’t exist and therefore has no access to education and healthcare.

Within and beyond China, remarkable heroes extend the escape networks into numerous Asian countries as they work to send North Korean escapees to freedom in South Korea and beyond. These heroes include: Steve Kim, founder of 318 Partners (named for Article 318 of the Chinese criminal code which sent him to jail for aiding North Koreans in China); “Mary and Jim,” a retired couple, who run orphanages in China for mixed children abandoned by missing North Korean mothers and desperate Chinese fathers (the undocumented status of these children makes them ineligible for adoption); and “Mr. Jung,” who has undergone face-changing surgeries to repeatedly fool Chinese authorities while rescuing South Korean prisoners of war held illegally in North Korea since 1953.

The tenacity of such brave individuals is sharply contrasted with the failure of the world – especially South Korea, the United States, even the United Nations – to confront and combat North Korea’s atrocities. Kirkpatrick convincingly argues that escaped North Koreans – from starving children to highly-placed officials – will prove to be the best weapon against toppling the despotic, third-generation Kim regime.

Kirkpatrick is a methodical writer, and Escape from North Korea is a solid, matter-of-fact title that falls somewhere in between the unrelenting brutality of Blaine Harden’s recent Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, and the flowing narrative of Barbara Demick’s lauded 2010 National Book Award nonfiction finalist, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. As literature, Escape from North Korea is efficient at best; it reads like a series of separate articles patched together. Certain details are unnecessarily repetitive (such as explaining yet again who North Korean founder Kim Il Sung is, two-thirds through the book). Other details seem oddly missing and sometimes surprisingly inaccurate. Kirkpatrick refers to the underground railroad-multiplying organization LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) as “founded at Yale University in 2004 by two Korean-American students,” but identifies only one founder (whose story is one of the book’s most inspiring). Meanwhile, however, Kirkpatrick neglects to tell readers about the never-named co-founder who was actually already a California college graduate when LiNK began.

Quibbles, inaccuracies, and typos aside, Kirkpatrick undoubtedly offers an eye-opening opportunity to explore an overlooked, pressing topic. She shares with readers the harrowing testimonies, the wrenching struggles, and the inspiring successes. Regretfully, in its current incarnation, Escape reads like a powerful draft waiting for a diligent editor’s transformative prowess.

Review: Christian Science Monitor, November 26, 2012

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Korean, Korean American, Nonethnic-specific, North Korean

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones

Just as North Korea’s presence in news headlines has proliferated of late – thanks to the installation of the third-generation round-faced despot; nuclear tests; failed missiles; blatant threats – book shelves, too, have seen an increase in North Korea-themed titles, predominantly written by non-Korean authors.

In the non-fiction section, if Guy Delisle’s 2005 graphic memoir, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, was entertainingly surreal, then Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, which debuted last month, proved to be the most inhumanely devastating. Barbara Demick’s lauded 2010 National Book Award nonfiction finalist, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, offered something in between uncomfortably comic and unrelenting shockfest.

In fiction, if Jeff Talarigo’s 2008 The Ginseng Hunter was the most luminous about tortured North Korean lives, then Adam Johnson’s stupendous recent bestseller The Orphan Master’s Son was surely the most harrowing. Somewhere within that horror spectrum emerges the latest North Korea-focused title, All Woman and Springtime, by Brandon W. Jones, a debut novel out this month.

In a North Korean orphanage, two teenage girls become unlikely friends. Withdrawn Gyung-ho (named after a boy because her parents so wanted a son) is her family’s only survivor of prison camp. Irreverent Il-Sun, who would have had a privileged life had her mother not died, is for Gyung-ho the quintessential “all woman and springtime, the embodiment of feminine beauty.”

Under the portraits of Great Leader Kim Il-sung and his son Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, the girls toil as trouser seamstresses. In the book’s opening paragraph, Gyung-ho intently watches the “paradox of sewing, that such brutality could bind two things together.” That “methodic violence” Gyung-ho observes will play out through almost 400 pages, leaving such desolation that even the deus ex machina-ending – in equal measures longed-for and implausible – will provide little relief.

Il-Sun’s rebellious need to escape the daily drudgery of the orphanage and factory lands her into the arms of a less-than-honorable young man. She’s forced to flee – with Gyung-ho literally in tow – setting in motion a tortuous odyssey of sexual slavery first in Seoul, then in Seattle, Washington. Before they cross the DMZ, the two become three, joined by brash young Cho, already an experienced “flower-selling girl” – a prostitute – at 19. Before they cross the Pacific, they will add another when brave Jasmine, already trapped for five years in the heinous business, is ordered to indoctrinate the new girls into their dead-end future.

Amidst constant debasement, each relies on scant personal resources to survive – Gyung-ho, detachment; Il-Sun, vanity; Cho, experience; Jasmine, desperation.

As a story, “All Woman and Springtime” is unfortunately driven by predictable extremes: All women are victims and (with the exception of three minor characters) all men are victimizers. Whether in North Korea, South Korea, or the United States, sex is the universal weapon that keeps women and men viciously polarized.

As a writer, Jones’s lucid prose provides brief reprieves from the constant brutality – he can certainly craft elegant, quote-worthy sentences: “This path of survival, and that path of happiness, did not cross,” or “There was never any plan for the future, only a plan to live until the end of the day,” and “The enemy, she decided, was not the communist or the imperialist, but the lack of understanding between them.” Regrettably, Jones occasionally falls into clichéd romance-speak with “She was a girl with a beating heart who had fully capitulated to some unseen suffering, but whose essence still throbbed beneath the surface,” or irregular 21st-century American teenage vernacular with “I’m just saying.” Perhaps a result of lost-in-translation moments, he shortens Gyong-ho’s name to “Gi” (stuttered, the sound would be a single-syllabic repetition of ‘gyuh, gyuh, gyuh’) and awkwardly uses “teacup” as a term of endearment (in Korean, ‘chajan’ just doesn’t work like ‘sweetie,’ or even ‘cookie’).

In early publicity materials – for better or for worse – All Woman and Springtime is being compared to Memoirs of a Geisha, the exoticized bestseller for which Arthur Golden and his publisher settled out of court after being sued for breach of contract and character defamation by Mineko Iwasaki whose real-life story Golden (mis)portrayed. Readers similar to those who bought Memoirs of a Geisha might also make All Woman and Springtime a bestselling page-turner, although to read of one ghastly violation after another is a dark, draining experience.

Perhaps the best – only? – way to experience this novel can be be found in the words of one of its unfortunate characters: “… that being a witness, she was involved, and being involved, she had a responsibility to act.”

Review: Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2012

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Korean, Nonethnic-specific, North Korean

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

Escape from Camp 14 is the most devastating book I have ever read. Perhaps the resilience of youth got me through the aftermath of learning about slavery, the Holocaust, even Iris Chang’s now-classic The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust, the title I previously held as the most horrific testimony of inhumanity.

More recently, I cried through 2010 National Book Award nonfiction finalist Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. I ignorantly questioned the veracity of the torturous conditions in Adam Johnson’s recent, deservedly bestselling novel The Orphan Master’s Son. I paid attention to headlines about North Korea’s potential nuclear threats and the succession of Kim Jong Eun to the mythic Kim Dynasty.

But nothing prepared me for the odyssey of North Korean Shin Dong-Hyuk as told by journalist Blaine Harden, former Washington Post bureau chief for East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. Shin, who changed his name “after arriving in South Korea, an attempt to reinvent himself as a free man,” is the only known North Korean who was born in a prison camp to have escaped and survived.

Shin’s story is vastly different from that of other survivors; as Harden chillingly reveals, it doesn’t fit “a conventional narrative arc [of survival]” which includes a loving family, a comfortable home, a sense of community governed by moral principles, from which the protagonist is brutally torn. In utter contrast, Shin began his life barely human: his prisoner parents were arbitrarily paired by guards to breed, whatever offspring they produced would become slaves who would work and die in Camp 14, considered “[b]y reputation … the toughest” of the country’s six known camps.

Shin experienced no familial bonds. His mother was nothing more than competition for food. He barely saw his older brother and father. He described himself “as a predator who had been bred in the camp to inform on family and friends – and feel no remorse.” Preying equaled survival. Only much later would Shin learn the criminal history of his family: “The unforgivable crime Shin’s father had committed was being the brother of two young men who had fled south during [the Korean War]… Shin’s unforgivable crime was being his father’s son.”

At 4, he witnessed his first execution. At 6, he watched a classmate beaten to death for having five grains of corn in her pocket. At 14, he survived heinous torture, then witnessed his mother being hung and his brother shot. At 22, he lost a finger as punishment for dropping a sewing machine.

At 23, on January 2, 2005, Shin climbed over the electrified corpse of his fellow escapee, and began a labyrinthine journey toward freedom. His own slight body bears innumerable scars of mutilation. When he escaped, he knew virtually nothing of the outside world, yet he miraculously traversed North Korea, China, South Korea, and finally made his way to the United States.

To call Shin’s adjustment to his new life “difficult” is grave understatement: “’I escaped physically … I haven’t escaped psychologically.’” Defectors understandably suffer from a myriad of clinical symptoms including post-traumatic syndrome, paranoia, paralyzing survival guilt. Shin struggles at an even more basic level: “’I am evolving from being an animal … [b]ut it is going very, very slowly.’”

As horrific as Shin’s ordeals have been, “’Shin had a relatively comfortable life by the standards of other children in the camps,’” a former camp guard and driver told Harden. Others have endured “worse hardship.” Compounding such stomach-churning news is the realization that “[t]he camps have barely pricked the world’s collective conscience.” They hold 200,000 prisoners according to the U.S. State Department and several human rights groups; they have lasted twice as long as the Soviet Gulag, and 12 times longer than the Nazi concentration camps. Google Earth provides high-resolution satellite photographs “to anyone with an Internet connection.” Amnesty International has documented new construction in the camps as recently as 2011.

A book without parallel, Escape from Camp 14 is a riveting nightmare that bears witness to the worst inhumanity, an unbearable tragedy magnified by the fact that the horror continues at this very moment without an end in sight. Inspired by Harden’s front-page Washington Post story in December 2008 – the article from which this book originated – a reader addresses a chilling question to all of us: “’High school students in America debate why President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t bomb all the rail lines to Hitler’s camps … Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il’s camps, and did nothing.’”

Review: Christian Science Monitor, April 2, 2012

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Korean, North Korean

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

This is a book I bought twice: first to stick in my ears on long runs (chillingly read by a Korean American triumvirate of Tim Kang, Josiah D. Lee, and James Kyson Lee), and when I couldn’t soak in the story quickly enough, I ordered an on-paper version to hold in my hands in between plugging in. Yes, this novel is that addictively amazing.

I confess to initial wariness over Adam Johnson‘s ability to conjure a convincing story about a country as shuttered as North Korea (yes, he’s been there, and shares his experiences in the bonus essay at the end of the audible version, but as with most guests to the truly hermit kingdom, every detail of his visit was highly orchestrated). I also questioned the unrelenting violence in Orphan, so mind-boggling as to be comprehensible only as made-up nightmares.

All doubts vanished, however, when I read the upcoming non-fiction title, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by journalist Blaine Harden, and had the horrific realization that Johnson’s novel, as stupendous as it is, is North Korea-lite. As utterly terrifying as Orphan is, its torturous content pales to what’s revealed in Camp 14. That truth proves paralyzing …

But back to fiction: Meet Pak Jun Do, whose name is not so dissimilar from the anonymous John Doe. “‘A John Doe has an exact identity,’” a CIA agent comments in response to Jun Do’s name, “‘It’s just waiting to be discovered.’” Indeed, Jun Do’s many-stage metamorphosis from a motherless young boy burdened with a North Korean martyr’s name to his reinvention decades later as another dead man, is a labyrinthine epic quest for self-knowledge, if not some semblance of redemption.

Jun Do grows up the only child of the Orphan Master at Long Tomorrows orphanage; one of his responsibilities is to rename the incoming boys “from the list of 114 Grand Martyrs of the Revolution.” These names will mark the orphans for life as rootless, even disposable beings. Not wanting to show any signs of favoritism, Jun Do, too, bears a martyr’s name and endures violent punishment from his father. Both father and son forever mourn the loss of wife and mother, a singer so beautiful that she was shipped off to Pyongyang to entertain citizens who actually matter.

Never able to shake his orphan name, the adult Jun Do endures a series of violent jobs, from kidnapping ordinary Japanese citizens to covertly tracking foreign radio signals from a fishing boat. He eventually boards a plane bound for Texas, returns to the homeland, and lands in a gruesome labor camp, only to re-emerge as someone else. He finds himself married to the woman of his dreams and as her replacement husband, he will do anything to save her from the glory of the Dear Leader …

More than a thriller, a mystery, or even a romance-of-sorts, Orphan is unshakable testimony to the power of storytelling. “For us,” a high-ranking official explains without irony, “the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.” Power belongs to the story – and stories become a matter of life and death. For Jun Do, trying to control his narrative in some small way is what will keep him alive …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012


Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Korean, Nonethnic-specific, North Korean

Drifting House by Krys Lee

Krys Lee, whose peregrinations originated and are currently paused in Korea with formative stopovers in the U.S. and England, infuses the nine stories of her breathtaking debut with the consequences of dislocation – whether forced because of war, or chosen by virtue of immigration.

The continuing aftermath of Korean partition sends three starving North Korean siblings on a brutal journey to find their runaway mother in the title story, while a fractured North Korean family struggles to create a new American life in “At the Edge of the World.” In a brave new post-war Korea, a lonely accountant diligently supports his wife and children living overseas in “The Goose Father,” while across the ocean, a Korean divorcée marries a stranger in order to search for her missing daughter in “A Temporary Marriage.”

Verdict: Like Daniyal Mueenuddin, National Book Award and Pulitzer finalist for his debut collection In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Lee, too, enters the literary world fully formed. Readers in search of exquisite short fiction beyond their comfort zone – groupies of Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth, The Interpreter of Maladies) and Yoko Tawada (Where Europe Begins) – will thrill to discover Drifting House.

Review: “Short Stories,” Library Journal, November 1, 2011

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Korean, Korean American, North Korean

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher

In another century, travelers wrote a few postcards. Today’s modern wanderer might send group emails or abbreviated texts; the more techno-savvy might start a blog and instantly upload the pictures from those tiny devices. The really ambitious write essays and even books. Guy Delisle (thank goodness!) creates unique and fantastic graphic memoirs.

His temporary animation production gig in China became Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. A few years later, another Asian animation assignment became Pyongyang.

More recently, given his seemingly portable creative career, French Canadian Delisle works while accompanying his peripatetic wife on her far-flung posts with Médecins San Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). He apparently wrote Pyongyang, for example, stationed in Ethiopia, then went exploring in The Burma Chronicles. Sometime in the near future, surely the family’s year in Jerusalem will debut in a graphic rendition …? Please?

But back to the most northern ‘Axis of Evil,’ where Delisle spent two isolated, controlled months, sent by his French animation employer to oversee current projects with North Korea’s Scientific and Educational Film Studio of Korea (SEK). At the airport, he ironically manages to hold on to his copy of George Orwell’s 1984 by explaining through a sweaty smile that it’s “old … classic … fiction.” Surviving his entry, he is met by his guide and the waiting driver who will be his near-constant companions throughout his guarded stay. His first stop is to visit (read: pay his respects to) the 22-meter tall bronze statue of country founder Kim Il-Sung who, as Delisle notes, “despite his death (1912-1994), is still president.”

Such blatant incongruency sets the tone for Delisle’s surreal experiences. His sharp observations, captured in his signature black-and-white simple line drawings, range from the ridiculous and tragic – overworked “volunteers” forced into menial, back-breaking work – to the blinded and haunting  – immaculate streets empty of handicapped people because “all Koreans are born strong, intelligent and healthy,” the guide explains and seems to truly believe.

The disconnect – far beyond the usual East/West cultural divide – is mind-boggling between what Delisle is allowed to see and hear, and what he observes for himself. While his temporary foray into the “phantom city in a hermit nation” is gravely frustrating, it also proves to be deeply poignant … that final page as Delisle urges his latest paper airplane to “C’mon, go!” is a glimmer of hope for freedom in a land that time forgot …

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2005 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Canadian, Korean, North Korean

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Barbara Demick, currently the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, spent five years as Seoul’s bureau chief where she had unprecedented access to North Koreans. Her interviews, which began in 2001, eventually became Nothing to Envy, a mind-boggling, heartbreaking, surreal-ly humanizing portraits of six North Koreans and their lives on either side of the infamous DMZ that divides the two Koreas.

Interwoven with the fascinating personal stories is the grueling history of North Korea from its post-Korean War state as a paragon of Communism initially propped up by the Soviet Union and China, to the nepotistic changeover from Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong Il, to the country’s deathly collapse in the 1990s that led to massive starvation for its citizens, to the totalitarian regime which still somehow manages to stay in power even with the capitalistic transformations of its former Communist neighbors and supporters.

Demick takes her ironic title from a North Korean propaganda song that all children must learn: “… We will do as the Party tells us. / We have nothing to envy in this world.” Indeed, the power of brainwashing is astonishing as citizens believe with all their heart that North Korea is the best place to live, led by a god who keeps his citizens safe and free from the degradations caused by evil Americans.

In this controlled climate, chaste star-crossed young lovers, Mi-ran and Jun-sang, meet and court, hidden nightly from prying eyes by the complete darkness because most of North Korea lives without electricity. Their love-story-of-sorts drives the book, intertwined with the stories of four others – a Party-line toe-ing local leader, her daughter who refuses to be blinded by the government’s impossible claims, an orphan boy desperate to seek any opportunity that will lead to a meal, and an idealistic doctor who is ever-grateful for her free medical training until she realizes she can no longer save her patients’ lives.

Demick’s most notable accomplishment is in capturing individual real stories from the millions who have become statistics – horrifying, tragic statistics, albeit, but still more numbers than humans. Demick gives voice to Mrs. Song who watches her husband and son shrivel and die and still she polishes the required portraits of the Great Leader, to Dr. Kim who can never forget the eyes of her youngest patients she could not help, to Mi-ran who still sees the near-corpses she forced herself to walk by because she knew they were far beyond helping. Readers will not be able turn away as Demick’s defectors finally journey from North to South, where new challenges await …

My mother’s family is North Korean. As I was surrounded by maternally extended family as a small child when learning Korean, then maturing into an English-dominant speaking adult, my palate (and vocabulary) remains stuck in 1960s Pyongyang Korean even decades and decades later. My mother’s immediate family, plus a paternal aunt and her family were the only relatives who escaped Pyongyang before the country split in two. Demick’s book makes we wonder again and again, ‘are these my relatives?’ And surely, I am reminded once more the luck involved in the accident of birth and all the things we can and must do to make a more equitable world …

One quibble I must add that doesn’t have to do with the book exactly … I listened to the audible version of Demick’s book, read by Karen White. With some 66 million Korean speakers in the world, why oh why do producers think butchering someone else’s language is okay? White did an otherwise fine job of reading, but one phone call to a Korean-speaker could have prevented parts of the recording from being downright embarrassing (and insulting). Demick must be rolling her eyes. White, of course, is not alone …  Shelly Frasier who reads Planet India, Nathaniel Parker who reads the Artemis Fowl series … I could go on and on and on …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2009


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Nonfiction, Korean, North Korean

The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo

Jeff Talarigo can take some of the most horrific experiences a human being might face and somehow craft breathtakingly beautiful, haunting works of fiction. His luminous 2004 debut, The Pearl Diver, about the forced confinement of tuberculosis victims in mid-20th century Japan, was unforgettable. His latest, The Ginseng Hunter, chronicles a year in the life of a middle-aged Chinese man who lives alone on his family farm, located along the Tumen River which marks the border between rural China and devastated North Korea. His quiet, isolated life is interrupted by the desperate survivors who risk all to escape the deprivation and terror of their North Korean homeland. While too many others have chosen betrayal in order to survive, the farmer chooses to take grave risks in order to save even the so-called enemy – and hold onto his own humanity. …[click here for more]

Review: Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2008

“In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Survey of New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2008

Tidbit: My original review of The Ginseng Hunter (linked above) ran in Christian Science Monitor, then got picked up over the next day in some 20-plus other publications around the country and even the world! My few minutes of fame, that’s for sure!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, .Fiction, Korean, North Korean

Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, with foreword by Amartya Sen

famine-in-north-koreaAn expansive, statistics-filled look at why 600,000 to a million North Koreans died in the mid-1990s during one of the worst famines of the 20th-century. In spite of so-called government reforms and the push for growing international humanitarian aid, North Korean citizens continue to starve to death, stand-by victims of mismanagement and distribution failures. A haunting, exasperating, sobering look at an ongoing tragedy.

Review: “In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: New & Notable Books,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2007

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Korean, North Korean

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly LeaderThis enormous tome (800-plus pages) offers an expansive overview of a closed country and its incomprehensible leadership. With 13 years of research, four visits into North Korea, and extensive interviews with North Korean defectors, Martin creates a much-needed, timely resource.

Review: “New and Notable Books,” AsianWeek, October 28, 2004

Readers: Adult

Published: 2004

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Korean, Nonethnic-specific, North Korean