Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag Paperback – Sep 4 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
North Korea is among the most opaque nations on earth, its regime noted for repression and for the personality cult of its father and son leaders, the late Kim Il Sung and his successor, Kim Jong Il. Kang Chol-hwan draws from firsthand experience in explaining the repression. After the division of North and South Korea, Kang's family returned to North Korea from Japan, where his grandparents had emigrated in the 1930s and where his grandfather had amassed a fortune and his grandmother became a committed Communist. They were fired with idealism and committed to building an edenic nation. Instead, the family was removed without trial to a remote concentration camp, apparently because the grandfather was suspected of counter-revolutionary tendencies. Kang Chol-hwan was nine years old when imprisoned at the Yodok camp in 1977. Over the next ten years, he endured inhumane conditions and deprivations, including an inadequate diet (supplemented by frogs and rats), regular beatings, humiliations and hard labor. Inexplicably released in 1987, the author states that the only lesson his imprisonment had "pounded into me was about man's limitless capacity to be vicious." Kang's memoir is notable not for its literary qualities, but for the immediacy and drama of the personal testimony. The writing, as translated by Reiner, is unadorned but serviceable, a style suited to presenting one man's account of a brutalized childhood. Kang now lives in South Korea, where he is a journalist; his co-author Rigoulot was a contributor to The Black Book of Communism. Together, they have added a chapter to the tales of horror that have come out of Asia in recent years.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Most readers know of the politically bleak and economically disastrous history of North Korea. This affecting and directly written memoir will help make that history personal and specific. Kang, who escaped from North Korea in 1992 and now lives in Seoul, writes with the help of Rigoulot, editor of The Black Book of Communism (LJ 11/1/99). They tell the story of the Kang family, who became prosperous members of the Korean community in Japan in the 1930s but returned to North Korea out of sympathy in the 1960s. At first they lived comparatively well, but soon they ran afoul of paranoid political repression and became one of the many victims of the Korean prison work camps. The details of the gulag are depressingly familiar from memoirs of other Stalinist regimes, but this work is nonetheless important to record and witness. Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The wild boar is not a animal with four legs. He is an human animal,the nickname prison guard in the hell that the family found themselves. His particular cruelty to the family and anyone else is rooted in a love of the (now deceased) Great Leader.
To hear people so desperate to escape the country that they would leave their own families behind to face the consequences. Cannibalism, the death, the dulling of human senses. Its an amazing story.
This book is not horror show. Its not a gory death book with minutia details of pain. Rather it tells an awful story but it is in fact a story of how the human being can overcome. incredible adversity. You will admire this man and his story. You will also appreciate where you live. This book is well worth the money.
Kang is now one of the people behind the nkgulag.org organization.. If you speak Korean, check their site out.
Two NK Human Rights resources for English speakers are freenorthkorea.net and chosunjournal.com
In the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of Western interest in North Korea that has contributed substantially to a better understanding of P'yongyang's policy priorities and problems. Of particular note in this regard are two publications: "North Korea: Through the Looking Glass," an elegant and balanced study published by the Brookings Institute, and "Kim Il-song's North Korea," which presents the meticulously- detailed research undertaken by Helen Louise Hunter while she was still with the CIA. Both of these publications benefitted from the exploitation of defector information, but their homogenized findings still lack a sense of ground truth, and it is in this regards that Kang Chol-hwan's account of his life in North Korea is so valuable apart from its obvious importance on the human rights front.
"Aquariums of Pyongyang" provides a considerable body of anecdotal information that documents several trends which, North Korean government pronouncements make clear, are of increasing concern to the central government. These trends are rising hooliganism, especially on the part of youth gangs; rampant corruption and bribery in nearly all sectors of society; and a surprising underground use of currency (not always North Korean) in an economy that has traditionally been described as non-monetarized.Read more ›
Kang also provides a rare view inside the most secretive society of the contemporary era. He reveals a North Korea [DPRK] that is more accurately described as a criminal conspiracy rather than the most pure communist state in history. Communism serves as more a pseudo-religious enabling device for Kim Il-Song, his successor Kim Jong-Il, and their henchmen in this hyper-fascist state. To this end, communism worked better than the old style Hitler/Mussolini fascism if you were at the top. For the masses either system was a catastrophe. Kang provides vast evidence of this. Kang is also proof positive that the people of the North are not purely the brainwashed victims of communism that the rest of us have been led to believe.
The DPRK will go down in history as serving no useful purpose other than as a warning of the depths of depravity people are capable of, [while most of the world looks the other way].
Other reviewers note similarities to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" [a.k.a. the literary tombstone of the USSR] and I agree. I add, and recommend, "MiG Pilot" by John Barron & "Anthem" by Ayn Rand as related books. "MiG Pilot" tells the true story of another disenchanted communist, Viktor Belenko. "Anthem" is more a nightmare version of a pure-communist future society. The struggles and ultimate personal victories portrayed in "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" and "MiG Pilot" may prevent the rest of us from living in the world of "Anthem".
Most recent customer reviews
I've read descriptions of life in Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet gulag. It's hard to believe, but conditions in North Korean "re-education" camps are far worse!Published 3 months ago by Max Layton
I love that book
Very intense inside look on North Korea's infamous concentration camp.
What an interesting look into the lives of North Koreans. So much brutality and hunger. The world needs to pay more attention to them.Published on June 16 2013 by Amazon Customer
Great book from a point of view rarely heard. Let's hope kim Jung un is more just than kim Jong il.Published on May 26 2012 by Abdul
An essential book on understanding life, politics and ideology in North Korea. While quite gruesome at times, this autobiography sheds light on an otherwise unknown subject:... Read morePublished on June 2 2011 by G. Perlman
An absolutely excellent book. Could not put it down. Like reading Orwell's 1984, but the real life version.Published on Sept. 14 2010 by P. R. Kennedy
I came across this book after reading Tears of My Soul. I have to say that this book is absolutely captivating. It is a very quick read, but the impact will last forever. Read morePublished on July 8 2004 by Everett Littles
In my opinion this book is on par with Alan Patton's "Cry the Beloved Country." It powerfully conveys the plight of foreign oppression with both empathy and clarity. Read morePublished on April 10 2004