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Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231147460
ISBN-10: 0231147465
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Editorial Reviews


Kim gives us a marvellously unsympathetic portrait of a brain-washed apparatchik.

(Christian Oliver Financial Times)

[Kim's] dispassionate account of how one man endured the unendurable offers a clue as to how such extreme inhumanity can occur.

(Donald Richie Japan Times)

A reminder of the brutality of the North Korean regime.

(John Feffer Korean Quarterly)


A fascinating and extremely rare memoir of growing up in a comfortable existence in North Korea, only to be thrown into one of the worst prison camps in that country—and then escape to write about it all.

(Bruce Cumings, Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History and the College, University of Chicago)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (June 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231147465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231147460
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #937,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Debbie TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
---Book Description---
When Kim Yong was three years old, his father was executed as a spy for the United States. The stigma of the father's guilt would forever limit his son's future, so Kim Yong's mother placed him in an orphanage for war orphans by giving him a false background. He was adopted by a high-ranking political official, entered the military, and eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the North Korean national security police. His job gave him unusual freedom of movement throughout the country, and he encountered corruption at all levels.

He married, had children, and enjoyed access to luxuries others were denied. But when he was recommended for a promotion which required a meticulous background clearance check, his true identity was uncovered. He was imprisoned in two different penal camps over a six year period and forced to do hard labor on a starvation diet until his amazing, narrow escape in 1999.

---My Review---
"Long Road Home" is a biography written by Kim Suk-Young using transcripts of interviews with Kim Yong, but the book is written in first person like a memoir. It was a well-written, amazing story that kept my interest throughout. Kim Yong's story gave insight into many aspects of life in North Korea as well as describing what the penal camps were like and why people were sent there.

The introduction explained how Korea ended up as North and South Korea and other necessarily background information. The first part of the book (up until he got married at age 28) gave a broad overview of that period of his life with only a few, life-changing events told in detail. Afterward, much more detail was given, including graphic descriptions of how bad the suffering was.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JaimeZX on January 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover and read this book.

The true story of a man (Kim) who grew up an orphan in North Korea, joined the military, and became a powerful and well-liked model citizen who had even received personal thank-you notes from Kim Jong-Il.

When he was selected for promotion, a more detailed background check revealed his father had worked with the Americans during the Korean War. Kim was immediately arrested, tortured, and thrown into a slave labor / death camp, where he twice tried (and failed) to kill himself. After at least six years he and a friend identify an escape route, but there was only room for one and Kim was a better fit as he was more emaciated.

The next 18 months see Kim (barely) escape to China and then Mongolia before making it to South Korea - knowing that probably dozens of friends, relatives, and strangers' lives would also have been destroyed merely for the briefest of associations with him.

His story makes the movies like "The Great Escape" and "Shawshank Redemption" seem like kids playing cops and robbers.

I *strongly* recommend it, but you may want to keep tissues handy.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By James Holmes on September 12, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I finished this book last night - and have mixed feelings about the "story" and the approach to the story.

If you're on a kindle, skip the first 12 percent of the book - it's just transnational progressive doublespeak about why it's not NKorea's fault that it is the way it is. Much of the book seems to be scented through the co-author's political leanings.

It lacks the depth that I found in the other book about an escapee from North Korea, sure there are personal stories but Mr. Kim seems to almost idealize his former life in his descriptions. It lacks a personal note, so while you hear the words it's almost impossible to know what he's feeling about what he's describing, but at times it comes through. There's still some "I was an important man" arrogance that comes through. While not disjointed, the flow of the story has gaps and unanswered questions. The descriptions of his rise to power made me think that he really had little to regret about it, while each man has only his own conscience to answer for - you get the idea that if the could go back and regain his former life as if it hadn't happened, he would do so.

Essentially it's an OK read, but there's a certain honesty that I expected that left me unsatisfied. Is it a testimony to his strength that he survived the camp? Sure. Did other people die so that he could escape, yes - and he didn't avoid using and ruining the lives of others to make his escape good either. You wont find yourself looking upon this guy as any kind of hero, or any kind of survivor - although part of the secret police himself, he never speaks of the cruelties he inflicted on others, but is quite thorough in the descriptions of cruelties that he experienced at the hands of his former comrades.

I wish I could respect the guy, but I couldn't. If the co-author had managed to leave his political ramblings out of the first parts of the book - it would have been a better story on it's own.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By BooksatVioletCrush on May 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Kim was an ideal North Korean citizen. He had a high post in the government, made a lot of profit, worshiped their leader, put his country above his family and was basically living an ideal life with his wife and 2 kids. Everything was perfect, until it wasn't.

Kim was an orphan and war orphans had an advantage in North Korea as their parents gave their life serving the country. Family background played a very important role in North Korea and even the 2nd and 3rd generations had to pay for something their parents or grandparents did or supposedly did.

Kim's world came crashing down when it was discovered that he was the son of an American spy who was executed by the Government. He was immediately arrested and sent to prison for what his father did, a father whom he did not even remember.

What happened to Kim and possibly many North Koreans was shocking to say the least. I can only question the sanity of someone who can put 2nd and 3rd generation loyalists for something they did not do. I might have understood a demotion but not putting him into one of the countries worst prison.

Kim did manage to escape to South Korea and eventually to the US, but before that he had to spend 6 years in hell. His journey from North Korea to South Korea was nerve breaking. I kept praying they don't catch him even though I knew they don't. The author brings to light the lives North Koreans lived and probably some of them still do under this horrific regime. He wants the world to know what is happening in the closed country.

The author is the only person who escaped Camp 16 and 14 and has lived to tell his story. There are not many books written about North Korea and this one is definitely worth reading.
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