- Hardcover: 376 pages
- Publisher: Encounter Books; First Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1594036330
- ISBN-13: 978-1594036330
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 103 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad Hardcover – September 18, 2012
See the Best Books of 2018 So Far
Looking for something great to read? Browse our editors' picks for the best books of the year so far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Escape from North Korea should be assigned reading for anyonepolicymaker, academic, or journalist alikewho think they know anything about the Kim family dictatorship. Melanie Kirkpatrick shows how the new Underground Railroad” is not only providing an escape route from the prison camp that is North Korea, but something even more important as well. She shows how that escape route, aided and expanded, can bring down North Korea’s despotic regime and free its entire people. Kirkpatrick combines exhaustive reporting with insightful analysis in a powerful and compelling tale of repression and freedom.” John R. Bolton, Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
A riveting, meticulously researched account of the harrowing journey North Koreans must take to reach freedom. Kirkpatrick describes in detail the secret network of safe houses, transit routes and brokers that have emerged in China and other countries to enable North Koreans to escape. Similar to the Underground Railroad in the United States that liberated slaves, the network achieves inspiring successes and tragic failures. The book will interest both the general public and serve as a powerful tool for policymakers, academics and advocates interested in lending support to one of the world’s most persecuted people.” Roberta Cohen, Co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
About the Author
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The 17 chapters of this book are arranged into six parts. The organizational logic of the book takes the reader from the germ of an idea to flee all the way to settling into life in a free country, with all the trials and tribulations that are experienced in between. It begins as a story of one person who decides to escape, and who must virtually always get across the border into China on his or her own. Once across the border, there is help to be had if the refugee can find it before he or she gets caught by the Chinese and repatriated or is exploited by nefarious individuals. Danger is ever-present, occasionally even once the individual gets to South Korea.
Chapters 3 through 7 were particularly interesting because they looked at various classes of escapee, some of which one might not realize existed. It starts with the classic defectors, similar to those one might associate with the USSR—political, military, sporting, and artistic figures. This was the main class of refugee until people began starving in the 1990’s due to nation-wide famine.
Next is a chapter on brides for sale. Many North Korean women end up forced into slave marriages. China has a dearth of eligible women due a bias against female children, particularly combined with its one-child policy. Some women are lured across the border under false pretenses, but others, finding themselves fugitives in China, end up being exploited due to their vulnerability. Each bride fetches about $1,200 to $1,500 ($500 to $800 from the wholesaler to the retailer.) There’s also a chapter devoted to the children of such marriages, and particularly the cases in which the mother is repatriated and the child ends up orphaned because children born in China will not be taken by the North Koreans and frequently the fathers want nothing to do with the children. Pregnant women repatriated to North Korea are often forced to abort pregnancies involving Chinese fathers.
One of the most intriguing chapters was on the North Korean lumberjacks residing in Siberia. This profit-sharing deal goes back to the Soviet days. When the Soviet Union imploded, however, the arrangement was kept with some worker rights installed on paper to appease Russia’s newly developed human rights watchdogs. One might wonder how the Kims—fearful of dissidents as they are—would let a group live outside the country on a remote site that’s hard to guard. The answer is that all the lumberjacks had to have both wives and children at home to serve as hostages. Still, some decide to make the break.
There is also a chapter about the Prisoners of War from the Korean War who were trapped on the wrong side of the border.
I’m fairly well-read on the subject of North Korea, but, like most Americans, the bulk of this has to do with Pyongyang’s nuclear program. I, therefore, found some of the stories of the regime’s depravity to be beyond the pale. A sampling of such stories includes:
- guards severely beating a prisoner and then having other prisoners bury the victim alive
- the warden in a state-run orphanage having orphans fight each other for bigger food servings
- a family that killed themselves rather than be repatriated to North Korea
- individuals, such as Ri Hyok-ok, who were executed for distributing bibles
- North Korea’s provision of family information on trans-border family members as a profit-making scheme
- Kim Jong Il pulling a Pol Pot and shutting down the universities and colleges and sending students to work on farms and in factories for months in 2011 because he was afraid that the Arab Spring might be infectious
- Kidnapping foreigners on foreign soil, which North Korea has even admitted to openly.
Sadly, the woeful tales aren’t limited to the North Koreans. Kirkpatrick devotes a considerable amount of space to chastising the Chinese for repatriating North Koreans. Under international law, which China ratified, refugees shouldn’t be sent back to their country of origin if it’s likely they will be punished. China claims that individuals are economic migrants and not political refugees, and it compares them to Mexicans crossing onto American soil—without addressing the fact that Mexicans are not sentenced to hard labor or killed when they are returned to Mexico. The Chinese might also point to Hwang Jang-yop, the author of the North Korean Juche (self-reliance) policy, as an example of a “true” political refugee that they didn’t repatriate, but allowed to migrate to South Korea (where the North Koreans tried to assassinate him in Seoul several times.)
There’s even some disappointing behavior on the side of the US. In 2006, a US consulate employee in China not only turned away several North Korea refugees, but--by speaking openly over an unsecured line--got a conductor on the Underground Railroad arrested.
The end of the book contains an interesting description of how the Kims are beginning to lose the war on keeping the information age out of North Korea. From balloon drops to radio broadcasts, North Koreans are beginning to get true information about both the outside world and their own leadership. Lest one think that no one could possibly believe the propaganda out of Pyongyang, even in the absence of information inflows, there’s a story about an immigrant to America who had a hard time coaxing his family out because they believed that America was out to kill North Koreans. This father’s story of the good life in sunny Florida didn’t entirely convince them, and ultimately they had to be coaxed to their new home in stages. It’s telling that the cellphone was only introduced in North Korea in 2008. While cellphones aren’t that useful for the railroad because they can’t call outside the country, they do allow for some spread of information inside.
One might think that once a North Korean gets to freedom, everything is hunky-dory, but Kirkpatrick discusses the problems that most North Koreans have adjusting to life in South Korea. As workers, North Koreans tend to lack initiative. They just want to be told what to do, and will do no more. It’s not that they’re inherently lazy; they come from a world in which initiative is not rewarded but is often punished.
While it may be hard to believe, most of the emigrants have trouble coping with the massive amount of choice available in their new homelands. Having an entire aisle of the market devoted to laundry detergent overwhelms them. Apparently, a few—very few—have even snuck themselves back into North Korea where all they have to do is do what they’re told, eat what they can, and maybe starve to death.
I think this is an important book that should be read by anyone interested in world affairs. North Korea is truly unique in the world. One telling line from the book was, “Even during the Communist era, Russia was more liberal and prosperous than North Korea.” The continuance of the Kim Dynasty is an unstable proposition, and it’s impossible to know when it will fall and what damage will be done internationally when it does.
That is the background to this book. Escape from North Korea tells the story of those who try to escape from many different angles: the escape itself, hiding (mostly in China), the role Christians play in helping North Koreans get away, political escapees, South Korea's changing attitudes about its brothers and sisters, the difficulties of adjusting to freedom, the impact individual liberation may have on what is to be hoped with be a freer North Korea in the future. Kirkpatrick is not naive about any of this, recognizing the difficulty, for instance, of ill-educated slaves adjusting to a modern, free, technological society. She has done a thorough job of investigation, and while she chimes certain bells repeatedly -- such as the Christian connection, and her dislike of the South Korean "Sunshine Policy" -- all in all this is a richly informative and thoughtful account. Among other interesting scraps, one escapee noted that something she (he?) missed after leaving North Korea, was the dark sky at night.
As someone who has spent quite a bit of time in China, I am particularly happy to learn more about the role churches in China are playing in helping these lost souls. I can't imagine that even the most hard-boiled western atheist would deny that if anyone needs a little hope in their lives, its the people of North Korea.
One wonders about the wisdom of writing books like this, though. (Like David Aikman's equally skillful journalism in Jesus in Beijing, which I reviewed some years ago for Christianity Today.) Will the North Koreans get ahold of the information here, and use it to go after the good guys? Most likely Kirkpatrick wrote this book on the calculation that the good it may do, in encouraging China to treat its neighbors more humanely, and in encouraging westerners to support the efforts of those who help the North Koreans, will outweigh the dangers. I hope she's right.