May 2018

Personal Struggles with North Korea

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Recently I went on a binge of reading books about North Korea. The books below are non-fiction, but I want to mention the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It shows the struggle of Korean people trying to carve out lives for themselves in Japan, both before and after World War II. The Japanese were extremely biased against Koreans. Resident Koreans were very rarely able to get full citizenship. They were caught in a no-man’s-land of citizenship. Even ethnic Koreans born in Japan were not given citizenship.

Without You There Is No Us

By Suki Kim

This author emigrated from South Korea when she was 13 and grew up in New York City. A well-educated professional writer, Kim has written the most literate among these books. She writes about her experience of a job in North Korea teaching English to sons of that country’s elite. While there she was not allowed to leave campus without permission; all her lesson plans had to be approved by a committee of Korean “counterparts;” she was forbidden to discuss politics or anything that implied that life in another country might have benefits her students lacked. She taught for two semesters and loved her students but the environment was so restrictive and depressing, she was relieved to go home to New York.

In Order to Live; A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom 

By Yeonmi Park

After escaping North Korea, the author and her mother fell into a nest of human traffickers in China and went through horrendous experiences before making it out to South Korea. In South Korea refugees who passed the intensive vetting were then put into a facility for educating them in South Korean culture. The whole process took two or three months and then they were sent out to begin new lives with a generous stipend from the South Korean government. This book excels with its description of North Korean culture and the story of a girl who became a world-wide spokesperson for oppressed people.

This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood 

By Hyok Kang

Excellent portrayal of the government’s harshness, propagandizing, and meddling into the individual lives of its citizens. It is told by an eleven year old boy who watches his schoolmates die off during the famine of the1990s. His family was so imbued with North Korea’s propaganda that they were afraid of leaving North Korea because, in spite of the starvation, they still believed North Korea was superior to other countries.

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