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Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country Hardcover – July 29, 2008


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Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country + Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West + The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (July 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742556204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742556201
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,526 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kim chronicles his effort to lead North Korean refugees through the 6,000-mile underground railway through China in this exposé of the astonishing day-to-day realities of famine, religious oppression, torture and sexual abuse in the most secretive and impoverished member of the axis of evil. The author, a former missionary, spent four years at the China–North Korea border building shelters and orphanages, and his access to government officials, journalists, aid workers and hundreds of North Korean refugees provide him a unique vantage point from which to synthesize current research and policy on conditions in North Korea with affecting real-life testimonials. His intrepid effort to help four North Korean teenagers avoid arrest and repatriation on the journey from northern China to the British consulate in Shanghai is riveting, as is his insider knowledge of the perilous route refugees navigate across the borders of China, Laos and Thailand. The author's compassion and astonishing ability to penetrate the Hermit Kingdom and lift its shroud of secrecy do much to ameliorate the book's chief flaws, the clunky prose and occasionally amateurish conjecture and derivative political analysis. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

[A] fascinating account of [Mike Kim's] efforts to smuggle North Korean defectors to freedom in the South. (The New York Review Of Books)

[Kim's] intrepid effort to help four North Korean teenagers avoid arrest and repatriation on the journey from northern China to the British consulate in Shanghai is riveting, as is his insider knowledge of the perilous route refugees navigate across the borders of China, Laos and Thailand.
(Publishers Weekly)

The power of Escaping North Korea stems from the stories Mr. Kim tells. During his four years in China, he met hundreds of escapees from the North. He reconstructs their tales—of the privations of daily existence in North Korea, of life on the lam in China—in heartbreaking detail. . . . There are many heroes in Mr. Kim's book, not least the author himself.
(The Wall Street Journal)

A portrait of modern North Korea by an awareness advocate who was granted special access to the country's isolationist circles shares inspirational stories by survivors of such tragedies as famine, sex-trafficking, and gulag torture. (Forecast Magazine)

Mike Kim focuses on the question why such a large number of North Koreans are seeking refuge in China. He describes their flight and their situation in China as well as the living conditions in North Korea, including the situation of Christians under the North Korean regime. Among their sufferings are the following: poverty, famine, unemployment, violence, alcoholism, theft, corruption, bribery, oppression, gambling, abuse, rape, human trafficking, child soldier slavery, etc. According to Kim, famine and the search of food is the most common reason why North Koreans defect. (International Journal for Religious Freedom)

Mike's embrace of the spartan and hazardous vocation of protecting North Korean refugees in China is nothing short of exceptional. His book offers a personal and compelling account of this life-and-death rescue operation for our cousins in the North. (Tim Peters, Helping Hands Korea)

It is impossible to read the remarkable stories of personal suffering, endurance, and courage in these pages without believing that more can and must be done to help the North Korean people. It is not bad strategy or poor diplomatic practice to place human rights at the top of our agenda with Pyongyang and to challenge the rest of the international community to do the same. (Michael J. Green, former special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for Asian affairs, National Security Council)

This is an inspiring yet tragic study of the brave few in North Korea who have chosen to vote with their feet to leave the earth's most repressive regime. An important and accessible piece of work, it should be read by generalists and specialists alike. (Victor Cha, Georgetown University)

We hear about women refugees who suffer when sold as brides for rural Chinese farmers (a practice, incidentally, that involves many Chinese, not just Korean refugees, though this is not discussed), or who are sold into city brothels. We hear of children born to stateless North Korean mothers in China, who as a consequence are unable to attend school or obtain medical care. We hear that most refugees are sick when they cross the border. We gain insights into indoctrination and the mindset of North Koreans after six decades of socialist rule. We learn how refugees initially appear lifeless and rarely smile; that they are usually weak, thin, and malnourished; and so on. And it is here that the volume's strength resides. (Keith Howard Reviews)

Americans and other foreigners have also opened a window to the suffering of the North Korean people, including Mike Kim, a young Tae Kwon Do expert who opened a string of martial arts studios in China as cover to help North Koreans defect. His book, Escaping North Korea, is a stunning story of tragedy and heroism. (Michael Green, Georgetown University, on CNN Opinion)

More About the Author

Mike Kim is an author, consultant, NGO founder, and North Korea specialist based in Washington DC. He is the author of the Wall Street Journal featured book "Escaping North Korea", a current events memoir published in 2008 by Rowman & Littlefield, about his experiences at the China-North Korea border helping North Koreans. On New Year's Day 2003, Mike gave up his financial planning business in Chicago, Illinois and left for China on a one-way ticket carrying little more than two duffle bags. While living near the North Korean border, he operated undercover as a student of North Korean taekwondo, training under two famous North Korean masters from Pyongyang--eventually receiving a second-degree blackbelt. During his time in China, he learned of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans fleeing to China through a 6,000-mile modern-day underground railroad in search of food and freedom and he founded Crossing Borders, a nonprofit dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean refugees.

Mike frequently appears in the media and it was after his interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that there was interest from Hollywood in turning Escaping North Korea into a motion picture. The book-to-film project is represented by William Morris Endeavor and is currently in development. He lectures to audiences worldwide about his experiences at the China-North Korea border and has now shared his stories of inspiration, courage, and hope on five continents. Mike resides in Washington DC where he is a consultant and term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest work involves applying commercial capabilities to the nonprofit sector and is focused on counter sex trafficking initiatives worldwide and consulting on development in North Korea.

Customer Reviews

He also infused far too much Christianity into what, for the most part, should be a secular issue.
Guy
There was only so much the reader can take before he asks aloud "But where did you get all this information from?".
Craig Rowland
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about the real atrocities that occur in North Korea.
Jeff A. Guth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Nicky London on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Horrors of living in North Korea as related by refugees who flee the country into China looking for a better life. A lot of credit goes to those selfless people who help the North Koreans escape the hell of a regime run by a madman.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Stinson on August 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I happened to run into this book while I was in the library looking for Andrei Lankov's North of the Dmz: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea. While it's definitely not as authoritative as that book, it has a lot about what ordinary North Korean people are actually like. The second chapter, "Inside the Hermit Kingdom" was particularly useful in that regard. "North Korean men are some of the most violent men I have ever met," says the author, and he mentions how North Korean men often can't even be housed together. Later he talks about their state-sponsored alcohol and drug habits. These are the sorts of details on everyday North Korean life that you don't usually see in more academic treatises, and his style of prose makes for easy reading.

Later in the book, he describes some of the work he does, getting North Korean refugees into friendly consulates, and smuggling them across China. While some of that had me gripping the edge of my seat, it didn't really give me any lasting knowledge about the country. The last chapter has a decent analysis about North Korea's future. One final note - people who do the sort of work the author does are really special and deserve recognition. Overall, I'd say this book does what it's supposed to. If you're looking for a treatise on international relations, you should look elsewhere, but for a personal account, from somebody who can answer the question "what are North Koreans really like?" you'll find this to be an excellent resource.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The best thing about this book is that it is an easy read. Although Kim engages with North Korea, a political hotbed and at the forefront of the global stage, his stories are personal and his style easy to follow. Pick this book up if you want a real feel for what is happening on the China-North Korea border. The human element makes it a compelling, but easily flowing read. Because of both its content and its style, you will find it difficult to this book down.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By WingsandRings on July 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating book and a heart wrenching look at what's going on inside North Korea. The first half of the book painstakingly walks you through what life is like for the average person in North Korea (albeit somewhat haphazardly).

The second half of the book somewhat shifts focus to the Crossing Borders organization, which helped refugees in China. This is slightly less interesting, and because it's a Christian organization, is written from the perspective of and many times about Christian helpers and refugees. Little is discussed about other forms of religious persecution in North Korea, though they surely must exist.

Despite that, the Christian aspect is written matter-of-factly, without a "BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE, READER" element to it. It's simply written from that perspective.

I would say the 1st half of the book is 5 stars, while the 2nd half is 3 1/2 stars. But I would recommend this to anybody who's interested in the world's most isolated and oppressive country.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Some Guy on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who knows little about North Korea other than the fact that they are very seclusive, I found the book to be interesting. Organization is a little off, some chapters are about life in N.Korea, others about rescue attempts (some amusing because the author, at times, was just kind of "winging it" and expresses relief that things worked out). Some conclusions are drawn quite hastily and without much besides speculation. For instance, at one point the idea is presented that N.Korea intentionally turns a blind eye to coke problems because it decreases appetite (in an place of food shortage) while keeping people hyper-alert for work.

If you are looking for a dramatic read, this isn't you you. It hits a weird spot where it is mostly informative, but not in an empirical sense, more of a "satisfying your curiosity" kind of way.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Courter on March 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I am fascinated by North Korea. The people, the country, the "politics" of it. How a country of people can be so blindly following a person, how the propaganda even affects how we, the western civilization, views North Korea, it's all fascinating to me. I gobble up stories of people who defected to North Korea, and those who defected from North Korea.

This book is about a person who did neither. He didn't go to North Korea. He didn't live there, he didn't experience, first hand, the horrors of living there, of the oppressiveness. He did, though, help those who did.

This is the story of Mike Kim, and his 4 years helping those who most need the help. It was shocking to read that many who defect from North Korea want to willingly go back. It was also surprising to me to read about the peoples struggles, and China's role. I didn't realize that China, and their policies, were in a way contributing to the problem.

There were parts that I skimmed over. There is a lot of quoting from other people, not the defectors, but other people helping those who defect, or who have studied it.

There were also parts that, when you read the whole book, seem...odd. The part about most of North Koreans being on meth? Yet no mention of how they overcome their addiction to the drug - or how this poor country can afford meth, even to make it.

Overall though, it was fascinating to read about Crossing Borders NK and the work they do. Yes, it is Christian heavy if you aren't into that. But that is part of Crossing Borders (the group that Mike Kim was a part of during those 4 years). And the work they are doing with North Korean children who are now in China is so heartwarming.

This is a wonderful book....
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