Customer Reviews


218 Reviews
5 star:
 (155)
4 star:
 (50)
3 star:
 (11)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


239 of 245 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you 100xs-over to Mr. Kang
I'm surprised to read some of these critiques and find that individuals feel the need to discount this book for literary shortcomings and typos. The story itself is a strong one and I was more than willing to forgive this man for misspelling "kidnapings" in exchange for his horrific tale of the years lost in a North Korean concentration camp. It amazes me that some...
Published on November 23, 2002 by beechew

versus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Memoir of Solace
Man's inhumanity to man - this theme just kept coming back to me while reading this book. The other theme: the strength of the human spirit. Kang Chol-Hwan outlines a tale of survival and renewal that were both interesting and stupefying.

I wasnt aware of the large Korean-Japanese communist contingency inside of Japan that repatriated to North Korea in the...
Published 21 months ago by staypuftman


‹ Previous | 1 222 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

239 of 245 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you 100xs-over to Mr. Kang, November 23, 2002
By 
I'm surprised to read some of these critiques and find that individuals feel the need to discount this book for literary shortcomings and typos. The story itself is a strong one and I was more than willing to forgive this man for misspelling "kidnapings" in exchange for his horrific tale of the years lost in a North Korean concentration camp. It amazes me that some disregard these pages as "really nothing new" -- a very inhumane response to a very vivid and compelling account of abominable human rights injustices. This isn't fiction here; this REALLY happened and deserves the understanding that this man is sharing HIS story and not trying to write the next "War and Peace."
Kang Chol-Hwan has shared his amazing journey from one world to another. In order to share the reality of life under a loathsome, hateful regime that does nothing but systematically starve and kill its people, he risks the well-being of himself and loved ones. I read his story and was deeply moved. Being half a world away, it's difficult to fathom that such horrid injustices occur in our modern society.
I am a Korean-American and live a much more sheltered and protected life than many on this earth. I am deeply appreciative to my parent's for coming to the U.S. in order to give their children a better life. They were only children during the Korean War and had their fair share of hunger and hardships. They walked the long, death-ridden highway with the masses towards hopefully a better life in the South. They were among the fortunate. Many saw their families torn apart and kidnapped back to the North.
Reunification is inevitable. This seems to be the sentiments of many. It's only a matter of time before the North just can't hang on any longer without the help of its affluent sister in the south.
A great many thank you's to Mr. Kang for sharing his life.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


108 of 119 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars aquariums of pyongyang, November 12, 2001
By 
"Aquariums in Pyongyang" is an incredible story of survival and triumph over evil and hardship. Kang chol-Hawn was an upper middle class child of idealistic Koreans living in Japan when his parents returned to the North Korean "Workers Paradise" that was in the making of North Korea of the early 1960's. The reality of course, they soon discovered, was far from the communist propaganda that his mother was so taking in by. By the age of nine Kang was sent to a gulag and in it he endured all that one would expext from a communist gulag, beatings, starvation, hard labor, communist propaganda and brain washing. Not many people survived ten years in a North Korean gulag fewer still managed to later escape to the west or in Kang's case South Korea. None before have written a book about such experiences and that makes "Aquariums in Pyongyang" a unique book. One of the amazing things about this book aside from the story it's self is that Kang manages to not only detail the horror but also display quite a bit of humor albeit largely sacastic humor such as a chapter titled "ten years in the camp: thank you, Kim Il Sung" Another chapter entitled Biweekly Criticism and self-criticism is filled with sacastic humor that can make you laugh out loud even if you feel a little guilty doing so knowing the suffering of the gulags prisonors. Aquariums is a excellent book that will challage your views of North Korea no matter what your political views are. an excellent read definitly reccomended
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


69 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must-read for an understanding of north korea, June 11, 2003
By 
Merrily Baird (atlanta, ga USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Other reviewers have already noted the importance of this book in documenting the pervasive pattern and Kafkaesque quality of human rights violations in North Korea, so I shall concentrate instead on what other help this book offers for penetrating the veil of secrecy in which P'yongyang wraps itself.
In the past decade or so, there has been an explosion of Western interest in North Korea that has contributed substantially to a better understanding of P'yongyang's policy priorities and problems. Of particular note in this regard are two publications: "North Korea: Through the Looking Glass," an elegant and balanced study published by the Brookings Institute, and "Kim Il-song's North Korea," which presents the meticulously- detailed research undertaken by Helen Louise Hunter while she was still with the CIA. Both of these publications benefitted from the exploitation of defector information, but their homogenized findings still lack a sense of ground truth, and it is in this regards that Kang Chol-hwan's account of his life in North Korea is so valuable apart from its obvious importance on the human rights front.
"Aquariums of Pyongyang" provides a considerable body of anecdotal information that documents several trends which, North Korean government pronouncements make clear, are of increasing concern to the central government. These trends are rising hooliganism, especially on the part of youth gangs; rampant corruption and bribery in nearly all sectors of society; and a surprising underground use of currency (not always North Korean) in an economy that has traditionally been described as non-monetarized. Neither collectively nor individually are these trends underwriting an organized opposition, but they have substantially eroded both government control of the citizenry and public faith in the regime's relevancy and attractiveness. Also answered by "Aquariums of Pyongyang" are such questions as what happens to the goods and cash that the Japanese send to relatives in North Korea; how North Koreans manage escapes to China; and how the lives of the privileged few differ from those of the multitudes. "Aquariums" is especially well-paired with Hunter's book, which defines the vocabulary of everyday life in North Korea.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cultural Insights into North Korea, March 23, 2002
By 
Kawaiineko "kawaiineko" (Medford, MA United States) - See all my reviews
Back in graduate school now, my professor, a world-renowned international developmentalist, asked me to write a paper discussing how economic development changed the culture of Korea. My search for books that may give me "clues" to what current culture is like in North Korea led me to this book. North Korea is where my grand parents are from and where both my parents were born. My parents are both 61 years old. My grand parents left North Korea in 1953 and my parents left Korea in the in the early 1970s. If it weren't for my ancestors, I may have lived my life in Pyongyang instead of the previledged life I lead in the West.
I am no culturalist but North Korea, as a corrupted Stalinist cum cultist state is now very much different from South Korea. In South Korea, previledged rich kids drive their own automobiles whereas in North Korea, the fields are tilled by ox-drawn carts. In South Korea, bottles of Western scotch is drunk in night clubs where tabs come up to hundreds of dollars a pop and designer wears are de rigour with young college kids who indulge in decadences such as elective plastic surgery. In North Korea, hundreds of thousands of kids are stunted from malnourishment. I can't think of two more diametric cultures that could have emerged amongest one group of people: abject poverty and outrageous decandence. I am not judging South Korea nor am sympathetic to the North, I am just pointing out the stark differences. Anyway, if you want to know more about North Korea, this is a first-person account of someone who lived in a Korean gulag from the 1980s to the 1990s. The person who lived this life, Kang Chol-Hwan, is only about 34 years old in 2002.
To recap: In 2002, there are two Koreas, one the 7th largest economy in the world, the other where 2 to 3 million people are reported to have died of famine during 1995 to 1999: that's 10 percent of the population of North Korea. To wit, now there are two Koreas with two cultures. 50 years of separation and experiements in autarky vs. free-market economics (albeit, an Asian version) is the cause.
This book gave me a first-hand account of what life is like in North Korea. It is reader friendly and informative. Along with USAID (US International Agency for Development) Director Andrew S. Natsios book called "The Great North Korean Famine," I got a some ideas about what is happening in North Korea in the late 1990s to the present.
A good read if you are interested in what life is like for some North Koreans.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A disturbing look into the world's last Stalinist country........, July 5, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Aquariums of Pyongyang is the story of one man's life through ten years of captivity in a North Korean gulag....an incredible story of struggle against man's inhumanity to man. Many who read this book will probably view his family as highly naive for leaving Japan for North Korea and in believing North Korean propaganda over what they heard firsthand from people who had been there. On the docks before leaving, they were warned about going back and about the conditions to be found in North Korea. But, the elder family members were ardent supporters of Kim Il-Sung, and believed the propaganda put out on a daily basis. Little did they know they were putting their kids into a deathtrap from which they would have to endure many years of beatings and privation at the hands of the guards. The reeducation lessons are particularly noteworthy, as readers can gain valuable insight into how this regime works. Even dead people were not immune from being used to inculcate hate.....the picture of the prisoners being forced to throw rocks at the people hanging on the gallows (because they were enemies of the state no less!) until they were unrecognizable is one of the most chilling things I have ever read. All in the name of propping up one of the worst ideologies the world has ever known.

It should be noted that while Yodok was (and is) a terribly inhumane place, it is by the author's account, one of the lesser concentration camps in terms of harsh brutality. This being the case, I could not imagine even a short life in one of the more harsh gulags.

This is a book of required reading for anyone who thinks gulags and concentration camps went away with the demise of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent expose of this Orwellian nightmare society., September 17, 2003
By 
J. A. Edwards (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
As a recent amateur student of North Korea, I have read several of the popular autobiographies by people who have escaped this ultra-restrictive nation. "Aquariums" is an EXCELLENT book, reads easily and quickly, and conveys a considerable amount of background/history of the North Korean society. The parallels between this bizarre society and that portrayed in Orwell's "1984" are SOOOO pronounced as to be almost scary; it's almost as if Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il used it as a roadmap.
This book should be required reading for every high school student. In our modern American culture where our freedoms are not only taken for granted but not even recognized for their uniqueness in the world, I suspect most readers would think "Aquariums" to be a work of fiction rather than chilling modern day experience.
I encourage everyone to read this fine narrative.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling account of North Korean atrocities, June 15, 2005
By 
PrtyBus (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
As a person who reads extensively on North Korea, I found this book to be an invaluable account of the terrifying world of the regime. Not only does this book serve as an incredible resource which provides the world with intricate details and specific examples of the human rights crimes committed, but it is also a heart wrenching memoir that was well put together. While there are some sentences in the books that take a second reading because of the odd sentence structure or unfamiliar sayings (probably because Kang's account has been translated from Korean to French and now to English), for the most part it flows well. The way it is written has a great sense of immediacy, as if Kang is directly telling the story to the reader.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about North Korea's regime or to those greatly concerned with human rights. While I have always been extremely concerned about human rights violations in North Korea, Kang's account gave me a greater reason to feel this way. Despite having read other accounts of human rights atrocities in concentration camps and labor camps in other parts of the world, Kang's suffering never ceased to amaze and anger me.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You will thank God you live where you live (anywhere but NK), October 24, 2003
This book will stun you. A previous reviewer made mention of the Wild Boar and he's right some of the tales about the Wild Boar will make you laugh. But this book is not a comedy. This book is a story of a family who viewed North Korea as the paradise destination. Ethnic Koreans who lived and prospered in Japan they were inticed back to Pyongyang, to return 'home'.
The wild boar is not a animal with four legs. He is an human animal,the nickname prison guard in the hell that the family found themselves. His particular cruelty to the family and anyone else is rooted in a love of the (now deceased) Great Leader.
To hear people so desperate to escape the country that they would leave their own families behind to face the consequences. Cannibalism, the death, the dulling of human senses. Its an amazing story.
This book is not horror show. Its not a gory death book with minutia details of pain. Rather it tells an awful story but it is in fact a story of how the human being can overcome. incredible adversity. You will admire this man and his story. You will also appreciate where you live. This book is well worth the money.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading, April 10, 2004
By A Customer
In my opinion this book is on par with Alan Patton's "Cry the Beloved Country." It powerfully conveys the plight of foreign oppression with both empathy and clarity.

Every US military officer, all federal politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats and personnel stationed in South Korea NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.

The author's family willingly emigrated to North Korea. They had been quite wealthy, but felt ideologically drawn to seek North Korean citizenship. Ultimately they were imprisoned.

Their experiences as related make it clear that the government of North Korea is by no means a true Marxist state, but has devolved into a cult of personality revolving around the ruling Kim family. No imperial government in history has been more repressive, exploitative or murderous of its people. North Korea's leader is truly evil. Its brainwashed citizens are at once victims and enablers that evil. Their plight is tragic.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars from the belly of the beast, March 26, 2002
By A Customer
This isn't literature on the scale of "The Gulag Archipelago," and there are some misspellings, but so what? It's a highly accessible and moving account of one person's experiences in the North Korean prison camp system and his escape. It is hard for me to imagine a reader who reading this book would not learn something about North Korea or the human spirit. Bravo to the authors for putting out this memoir.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 222 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Chʻŏr-hwan Kang (Paperback - August 24, 2005)
$16.95 $11.12
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.