The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

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9780465011056: The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

North Korea today is one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Western historians and researchers have had little access to information about North Korea apart from official Party documents and propaganda. This book marks the first time that a victim of the regime has provided a personal and documented insight into the labour camps, the organized famine, and the political conditioning within this "hermit kingdom". Kang Chol-Hwan was arrested at the age of nine along with other members of his family when his grandfather made remarks about life in a capitalist country that were judged to be too complimentary. He grew up in the camps and has escaped to South Korea to document his personal life as a testimonial to the hardships and atrocities that constitute the lives of some several hundred thousand people living in the gulag today. Kang's account of this internment reveals the life-and-death conditions of the camp. Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this book brings together unassailable firsthand experience, setting one young man's personal suffering in the wider context of modern history.

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About the Author:

Kang Chol-hwan lives and works in Seoul, where he is a staff writer for Chosun Ilbo, a daily newspaper in South Korea. Pierre Rigoulot is a journalist, historian, and human rights activist living in Paris, France. He is the author of numerous books on the history of political repression and contributed the North Korean chapter to the best-selling The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press).

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.

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Kang, Chol-hwan, Rigoulot, Pierre
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