The Aquariums of Pyongyang (Review)

The Aquariums of Pyongyang (Review)

e tend to see North Korea in terms to its threat to us, such as its steampunk nuclear rockets and its last-generation military. And we see various solutions, from MAGA to Hollywood (i.e. The Interview). But we don’t see it from the point of view of its people.

Kang Chol-hwan was a Korean kid living in Japan with a leftist grandmother who bought North Korean propaganda and thought taking her family to North Korea would be the right thing to do. And it was. For about ten minutes. From this personal history of her grandson, we see a family shaken down for its wealth. And when a family member gripes about this situation, off to a camp they go. And it’s here that most of the book resides.

The place he ends up, on the ass-end of nowhere, is as far removed from anything Americans could possibly imagine. Kang describes the various aspects of camp life in a gulag, from the constant starvation (and the hunt for rats and salamanders to increase his critical caloric count) to the sweltering summers and horrific winters. After a decade of this, things improve marginally when he is released from the barbed-wire camp that was Yodok to the more general camp that is North Korea as a whole. It’s a constant day-to-day of paying off officials, trying to get out of his assigned place in the countryside, and sneaking an ear to his radio (which was to get him into real hot water as a friend goes on to snitch him out). With the authorities closing it, he and a friend have to cross the border into China and struggle to reach South Korea, and to find a place in its alien culture.

A very good book, one you should read if only to see how good you have it in the west. Further, you should see what happens when you yield all power to an emperor/god. Good heavens. Some of the images!

Anyway, good bio. Got mine from the library. Have a look!