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This Is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood Paperback – July 15, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Hyok Kang's story of a childhood spent in North Korea during the repressive regime of Kim Jong Il provides a rare window into the "most closed state in the world." Thirteen when he and his parents escaped to China in 1998, Hyok paints a mind-boggling picture of long school days followed by hours of farmwork, routine executions viewed by hundreds, and the "nocturnal disappearances" of friends and neighbors--the "unfaithful" who were sent away to penal colonies. It was only when faced with death by starvation that the family ultimately made the decision to escape. Since UN rations were siphoned off by party members, and leaves, grass, bark, and grasshoppers became the only available food for the masses, Hyok recalls that all but 8 or 9 of his 35 classmates had starved to death before he and his family fled. They lived like "hunted animals" for four years in China, always fearing deportation, until finally reaching South Korea, where Hyok was able to share, in both words and drawings, his remarkable saga. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


...a small jewel of a book. -- Mail on Sunday

An engrossing picture of a nation that remains closed to the world, aptly described as the Jurassic Park of communism. -- Scotland on Sunday

The most penetrating account of life in North Korea I have ever read. -- Jon Snow, author of Shooting History

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group (July 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316729663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316729666
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,185,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Kang grew up in the last 80s and 90s in North Korea. Originally, his family was relatively well off because they had chosen to stay in North Korea instead of being repatriated to Japan. In addition to receiving funds from Japanese relatives, they were favored by the North Korean leadership for their patriotism in staying.

The book starts covering general day to day life. By Western standards, the rich Kang family is poor. Kang talks about day to day life-- how he often slept at his grandparents house, what he thought of his teachers, what he learned in school. You learn about the rigid hierarchy imposed on the students and their uniforms and what the different badges mean, both officially and unofficially in the school yard.

Then, the famine starts. Kang's family's wealth is slowly drained away. His disillusionment grows-- he starts writing alternate lyrics to patriotic songs. Lyrics that, if found out, would get him and his family killed. School stops being about learning and starts being about farming government fields with food that they will never see unless the steal it in the dead of night (which Kang does). They hunt rats and eat tree bark and grass. Hanging out with your friends involves going to their house to say your final goodbyes as they slowly and horribly starve to death. (Kang estimates around 75% of his classmates died during these years.)

Executions are common place. Bodies are padded so the blood doesn't spray the crowd. During the winter, the bodies steam. People are eating the dead in order to survive-- people are killing each other in order to eat them.

In 1998, the family escapes to China. You know things are bad when China is a rich paradise. Kang couldn't believe that, in China, people at rice every day.
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Format: Paperback
"This Is Paradise!" is the riveting account of Hyok Kang's childhood in North Korea and his escape to China and , eventually, South Korea. What makes this book unique is that it provides a glimpse into the North Korea of the 1990s from a child's perspective. Moreover, Kang is quite an artist, and his sketches of select scenes from his North Korean childhood and his escape add considerably to this book.

Hyok Kang's "This Is Paradise!" comes following the success of Kang Chul Hwan's best-seller, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang", the first book written by a North Korean refugee about life in North Korea and escape from the communist country. Hyok Kang's account is shorter than Kang Chul Hwan's, and it does not provide the same detailed historical background of North Korea or the opinionated analysis found in "The Aquariums of Pyongyang." This is understandable considering that Kang Chul Hwan is significantly older than Hyok Kang (who was only born in 1986). Kang Chul Hwan had also spent significantly more time in South Korea before writing his book, giving him more of a chance to learn about communism worldwide and the recent history on the Korean peninsula.

While there are many parallels between this book and "Aquariums of Pyongyang," Hyok Kang's situation was notably different from that of Kang Chul Hwan. Whereas Kang Chul Hwan living in North Korea during the 1970s and 80s, when Kim Il Sung was president, Hyok Kang experienced North Korea under the rule of Kim Jong Il in the 1990s, when there was a severe shortage of food and a reported 3 million people died of starvation. While Kang Chul Hwan came from a privileged family living in Pyongyang, Hyok Kang hails from the Northeastern city of Onsong, far removed from the capital.
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I probably would have prefered a more biographical chronology since the book jumped around a bit, covering issues and experiences more topically than chronologically at least in the first half of the book. But it wasn't that much of a drawback. Not as strong as "Aquariums of Pyonyang" or "Nothing to Envy," this book nonetheless deserves its place in the growing library of survivor's literature on North Korea.

The horrors of daily life under the psychotic Kim dynasty comes to life in this volume. The authors did a good job bringing out detail and experience from a young subject, a North Korean refugee who was probably barely in his teens at the time the book was compiled. One certainly comes away with a very clear picture of the depressing reality of daily life, if one can call existence there a life.

Particularly stark are the stories of survival and what it takes just to keep from starving to death in a country that seems to have plenty of money to spend on its military and on nuclear weapons, but not enough resources to feed its own people. It's depressing to see in the book just how animalistic people become in a situation of famine like this, transforming as the authors show into selfishness and concern only for one's own survival in just eeking out enough calories to stay barely alive. This manifests itself to the extreme of parents abandoning children so they can keep themselves alive. Far from judging these poor souls, I found myself questions how I would act in a similar situation.

The book also presents evidence of the craven, wholesale theft of foreign food aid by North Korean party hacks.
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