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on August 31, 2009
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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on March 29, 2009
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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on March 13, 2012
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.... bit long at points, but it tells a story of North Korea that many of us do not know of...those of us who read these stories have read of the defectors to North Korea (then they defected back out), and those born in North Korea who escaped to other countries (usually China, then to other countries from there) to start a new life. This was from the viewpoint of the people who help those who defect...which is something I had not come across.

My hope - unrelated to the book - is that one day, in the next 10 years, books like these are history...and not reality. That North Korea opens its borders, and treats its citizens with respect and dignity...and like humans.
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on October 15, 2008
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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on July 15, 2009
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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on February 2, 2010
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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on December 19, 2012
Maybe I expected too much but finished this book wanting more. It is unsettling how much the N Korean society is fed negative information about the outside world. Maybe there is no hope for anything changing and therefore no more to tell. Those who have escaped do not seem to do anything to dispel the untruths about the free world.
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on August 1, 2013
Although I appreciated the information about the plight of the North Koreans, I found the book much too long and not much new information about half way through. I found myself fast forwarding the pages on my Kendal just to get thorugh.
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VINE VOICEon August 26, 2010
Kim offers a fascinating view into the isolated world of north korea. The plight of the average person is astonishing. Most people know of the terrible famine, the repressive policies, particularly as they relate to religion or politics, and mind-numbing propaganda, but the stories of the refugees told here bring the tragedy to a personal level. The catastrophe that is north korea displays the abject failure of communism and its devastating effect on its citizenry. The author's and others' work to help the north korean refugees is encouraging but Kim lays out much to do. The book consists largely of imparting the stories of refugees and their lives under kim jung il and his cronies. I consider myself a person who keeps up on the news coming out of north korea and still found new details here. The extent of human trafficking along with the very real threat of being returned by Chinese authorities are issues that are well presented and should be of great concern to the world at large. The information relayed by the refugees about how much and what kind of food was available and/or affordable is also very interesting and continues to underscore the magnitude of human suffering caused by the stalinist regime. While the book is obviously not a feel-good pick-me-up there is an undercurrent of hope presented in the ongoing work of Christian organizations such as Crossing Borders and the resilience of the refugees themselves. Also very interesting is Kim's story of helping refugees enter guarded embassies and cross secured borders. Some reviewers have noted that refugees often inflate their ordeals to gain sympathy and support and are therefore not reliable witnesses, however; the refugees stories are very consistent with one another and certainly the reality of their starvation is written in their bodies. Many are suffering in north korea, but much can be done to help them. I especially enjoyed Mr. Kim's frequent references to his own Christian faith, those he works with and the refugees who find comfort and salvation through their work. It is inspiring to read about Christians heading into north korea and especially those refugees who willingly return to share the gospel with their friends and families under threat of death or imprisonment in the gulags. Absent here are arguments on politics or particular strategies for dealing with north korea and their nuclear program. Mr. Kim's book is simply a straightforward telling of the need for help however it can be offered. I recommend this book for someone who is interested in the human suffering within north korea, the bravery of refugees and the people risking their own lives to help them, and what individuals can do to help. This is a very timely book. It's time to free the people of north korea.
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on June 19, 2013
It gives an overview of just what goes on in near the border between China and North Korea. The author puts in some interviews from the people that were rescued giving another perspective about the issue. Even though it does not go into massive detail about day to day operations, it still gives you enough information for one to understand the hardships without actually having the author go into detail.
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