By: Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot Translated by: Yair Reiner This was a really interesting book, I enjoyed it very much (not in the way one enjoys a trip to an amusement park, obviously). It of course revealed that the conditions in North Korea are terrible. It gave an account of the situation that was described as relatively good despite still being terrible. I often assume that I know what terrible is, but regularly as I search through media from terrible places and situations, my understanding of terrible is surpassed. It has got to be hard for me to imagine, like fathoming a 4th dimension or what it's like to have the senses of a bat, the experience is simply not available for me to understand, but the account offered in this book does bring me closer to understanding. The account of the prison camps was particularly interesting because of the author's young age and innocence. It's amazing to think that at certain points he thought that what was happening was normal. As the author himself sometimes describes, it is like hearing about “another universe” where hot freezes and cold burns. When I mention the author, I mean Kang Chol-Hwan PREFACE

  • it wasn't until after ww2 that the atrocities committed by the Nazis in relation to the Jewish people came till light. Could this happen with North Korea?
Introduction – North Korea – The World's Last Stalinist Regime
  • history of how North Korea came to exist
  • female human trafficking into China
  • stunted growth of children
Chapter 1 – A Happy Childhood in Pyongyang
  • in the 1960s the North and South were on par with regards to economic development
  • Renounced but often used in private, regarding the age of a person, year one starts when conceived, and incremented on each January first though according to <a href=""> this does not have to do with time spent in the womb
  • In school there were “self-criticism” sessions, where children would denounce themselves for not living up to the standards of the Great Leader. Apparently they weren't as bad as they sound, that they were supposed to serve as encouragement to do better.
  • Pupil's Red Army
    • fake guns
    • marching
    • fun
  • author seems to have had a fun childhood
  • seemed exceptionally well off in comparison to others though
  • other places, and big cities seemed to be doing okay
Chapter 2 – Money and the Revolutionary Can Get Along
  • “According to Confucian tradition, which continues to hold sway in present-day Korea, a married woman belongs to her husband's family and remains so, irrespective of divorce or separation. If she tries to return to her parents' home, she will most likely be turned away.”
  • describes how the author ended up wealthy (grandfather was rich from enterprises in Japan)
Chapter 3 – Next Year in Pyongyang!
  • Discussed family's move from Japan to North Korea, quickly realized it was a horrible decision
Chapter 4 – In a Concentration Camp at Age 9
  • grandfather taken by security forces one day at work, security forces lied to family about whereabouts, eventually came to take the family
  • security forces searched the house, stole plenty of their belongings for themselves, gave others to the government
  • interesting, much of this is told from the author's perspective who was at the time, 9 years old, which makes the story quite interesting because of his innocence, he wasn't even aware of what was going on, initially he thought that it might even be fun going off into the country, but he was concerned about his pet fish.
Chapter 5 – Work Group Number 10
  • there exists “school” in the camps for prisoner children that ran half the day, the other half would be labour
  • guard families and guards were well off, lived separate from the prisoners
  • described the family's introduction to the camp
  • devices used to prevent escape, including animal traps, depended on mountains etc for natural barriers
Chapter 6 – The Wild Boar: A Teacher Armed and Ready to Strike
  • ways teachers would address students:
    • "Hey, you, in the back of the room!”
    • “Hey, you, the idiot in the third row!”
    • “Hey, you, son of a whore.”
  • One of the teachers described as “an adept technician of suffering, always searching for a way to maximize pain.”
  • some punishment came in the form of digging ditches, filling them in, then digging more ditches and filling them in
  • described school and some of the child labour
  • Described an interesting situation regarding the effects of not distinguishing individuals of a team from the team, judging the output of the team and punishing the entire team if the output didn't meet standards. This had the effect of creating a system of self-surveillance, because no team members wanted to be part of a team where certain members were lagging behind. Though this could result in greater output, perhaps, it could create animosity between the team members, at the very least, a cold working environment.
Chapter 7 – Death of a Black Champion
  • The author was at camp Yodok, he describes this as one of the nicer camps
  • prisoners were separated between those who were “redeemable” and those who were “irredeemable.” Irredeemables committed, or were associated with people who at committed more serious crimes, like being a capitalist or a Christian. Redeemables were subjected to being re-educated, irredeemables were not, they did not have to learn how to praise the leader or communism because they were never going to leave the camp. 70% of Yodok prisoners were irredeemables, they suffered much worse that the redeemables which is a suffering that is difficult to imagine
Chapter 8 – Corn, Roaches, and Snake Brandy
  • certain jobs in the camp were better than others, a few were almost even relatively tolerable
  • prisoners often found themselves in the tough spot of needed to break the rules to survive and needing to obey to avoid punishment, or even, survive
  • brutalities of the camp were described
  • malnourishment seems to be the toughest punishment of them all
Chapter 9 – Death at Yodok
  • deaths caused by the winter not common
  • special grave area was dug up for room to plant corn
  • when working in fields, a perk was the possibility of being able to eat insects or frogs as you found them during work
Chapter 10 – The Much-Coveted Rabbits
  • camp snitches existed and were a valuable part of maintaining constant surveillance. The snitches were despised but were also considered victims by the inmates
  • for a while, the author had the privilege of raising rabbits. The rabbits were treated very well, their furs were needed to military clothing. The meat would go to the guards but the inmates managed to keep some
  • some inmates came to make rat a large part of their diet. Some inmates were inventive in capturing and raising rats. The authored ended up feeling very privileged when he was able to eat rat and stopped seeing them as something gross
  • the experience has corrupted the authors world view, when he now sees vast large mountainous landscapes, he does not see beauty but is reminded of the camp's natural barriers
Chapter 11 – Madness Stalks the Prisoners
  • basically no health services
  • sometimes you could have small procedure by medical staff that is usually reserved for guards, but then often left alone to deal with infections
  • prisoners often would go mad
  • medical staff mostly there to determine who might get minor leniency for ailments
Chapter 12 – Biweekly Criticism and Self-Criticism
  • propaganda sessions for adults
  • minor reprieve on very special occasions including specialities like a small piece of candy or watching a propaganda film
  • the author says that before the camp he loved their “leader” but says the camp “cured” him of his faith, that is, his thoughts of the leader now are all negative
Chapter 13 – Public Executions and Postmortem Stonings
  • graphic public executions, from shooting or hanging, prisoners forced to stone after death
  • many prisoners would be relatively numb after the first few executions
  • most executions were from escape attempts
Chapter 14 – Love at Yodak
  • sex forbidden
  • men caught, guard or prisoner would be sent to the sweatbox, a place where people often died
  • women would have to tell the village about the ordeal in great detail, as if they were telling an erotic tale
    • additionally, other punishments were said to have happened such as being penetrated with garden tool spades or having breasts cut off
  • sex was forbidden because these impure souls should not breed
Chapter 15 – Sojourn in the Mountain
  • the brutality of the labour in part made the prison experience more tolerable in a way, because it could leave people so tired that they don't even have time or the energy to dwell on the situation. Thus, rest time could be some of the worst times, thinking about the outside world or the terrible things that have or could happen
Chapter 16 – Ten Years in the Camp: Thank You, Kim Il-Sung
  • eventually it was time for the author and his family to leave. He was mixed on the ordeal, the camp is where he had grown up. Even though he was leaving a horrible place, he was still about to experience a drastic change and there was lots of unknown, it was even difficult to believe
  • In North Korea it is very difficult, if not impossible to move up the social ladder. Children of farm peasants were condemned to be farm peasants. Non-peasants marrying peasants were forced to become peasants, since the peasants would contaminate the non-peasants.
Chapter 17 – The North Korean Paradise
  • bribes are common in North Korea
  • “The regime that never tires of denouncing capitalism has birthed a society where money is king...”
  • fighting in the streets was common, people seemed to form gangs of sorts. Once the author was attacked in the street and managed to alert a police person who he had previous positive dealings with. The person who had committed the violence was sent to jail. The police allowed the author to enter the jail cell and beat the criminal, but not kill because that would cause trouble for the police. The author initially took up the offer but was soon horrified by what he was doing.
  • Extensive underground network
  • mail to other countries censored
  • during famine, peasants began to grow crows on abandoned land as if it were their own private land. This is very against the regime but they were forced to tolerate to help limit massive starvation
  • lots of North Korean families get by on money sent to them from family in Japan
Chapter 18 – The Camp Threatens Again
  • the another and his friends enjoyed listening to South Korean radio which is extremely forbidden. A friend snitched on him and he was put under surveillance. Things started getting scary, he thought he could be sent back to the camps, this time hard labour, and thus he and another friend decided it was time to try to escape North Korea all together
Chapter 19 – Escape to China
  • the escape actually seemed relatively easy, the primary tool was bribes, the guards were paid off and guides in China helped them along.
  • Unfortunately making it to the South Korean consulate did not set them home free
  • apparently escape is getting easier and easier with time
  • though the author had money and connections, most don't
Chapter 20 – Small-Time Prostitution and Big-Time Smuggling in Dalian
  • the two, now in China, were taken in by a Korean speaking female pimp for some time. They made good relations with the prostitution ring and eventually secured passage to South Korea.
  • Getting out of China seemed even more difficult than getting out of North Korea
Chapter 21 – Arrival in South Korea
  • more details on leaving China
  • was smuggled out on a cargo ship, once in international waters the ship captain notified South Korea about the two, a S. Korean military ship came and took them
  • the two amazed by how polite everyone was
  • the two were interrogated for months (in a nice way) to ensure they were being truthful
  • their arrival in the south was big news, though the news was sceptical of the conditions of the north
Chapter 22 – Adapting to a Capitalist World
  • it took about 2 years before the author could live freely, without chaperones etc. The chaperones were described as more helpful than a burden. It was tough navigating the new society after being in “...Hermit kingdom, as North Korea is sometimes called.”
  • A rich businessman saw the author's story and decided to contribute money for him to go to school/re-integrate etc.
  • A bank also provided a scholarship
  • there was some security risk from agents from the north
  • his escape probably caused problems for certain people left in the north
  • often the Chinese will send back people who escape to endure certain terrible consequences
  • several groups exist in the south to help people from the north
Epilogue – Pursuing Aid for North Korea
  • there is human trade of women across the North Korean boarder
  • food aid is tricky as it can be misused or help aid the military
  • but often the military is just normal people, people often go to the military in order to get food or advance in society
  • focus should be on dismantling the regime or helping escapees not on food aid
  • food aid helps continue the regime