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Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  442 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
From the world's most repressive state comes rare good news: the escape to freedom of a small number of its people. It is a crime to leave North Korea. Yet increasing numbers of North Koreans dare to flee. They go first to neighboring China, which rejects them as criminals, then on to Southeast Asia or Mongolia, and finally to South Korea, the United States, and other free ...more
Unknown Binding, 372 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Encounter Books
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Nov 03, 2012 Gaelen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book has a lot of new and interesting information for those following the North Korean human rights crisis, but unfortunately, it's diminished by the author's overreaching glorification of religion and its role in the humanitarian crisis. Those helping refugees are always referred to as "Christians" rather than "aid workers," etc., and the book goes into some unnecessary digressions about some workers' religious history. The fact that the author is pushing an agenda is distracting and takes ...more
Elle Thornton
Sep 21, 2012 Elle Thornton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is written with the skill and heart of a story-teller and equally so with the scholar's unshakable regard for facts. A former Wall Street Journal deputy editor who has spent years living in Asia, Kirkpatrick develops solid arguments for ways to change a country that is frozen in time. Because of her credentials and the story she tells so well, her ideas are certain to command the attention of policy makers. But beyond Washington and New York, many readers may be moved to act once they' ...more
Nov 11, 2012 Scott rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Of all the books I have read on North Korea, this was by far the worst. If you read only one book on North Korea, DO NOT read this one.
The idea of writing about N. Korean refugees is nothing new, what this book could have added was a detailed examination of the method and means of escape and those who help facilitate escape and transfer of refugees from North Korea/China to third countries and then onward to South Korea or elsewhere.
Unfortunately the book spends an inordinate amount of time tal
Kristie Robillard
Feb 11, 2013 Kristie Robillard rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting a hard hitting overview of North Korean policy, escapees stories of their lives in North Korea and what it takes for then to adapt to life in other parts of the world. Sadly, all this book is is a really strange but of religious propaganda with bits about North Korea mixed in. I'm going to try to return it today. I have never returned a booked. DO NOT BOTHER WITH THIS BOOK AT ALL! And if you do please don't pay any money for it!!! Just awful.
Bernie Gourley
Dec 17, 2013 Bernie Gourley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Escape from North Korea is the most intriguing non-fiction book I’ve read in recent months. Kirkpatrick offers a glimpse into the operations of a modern-day underground railroad, one thats stories—sadly—are often no less chilling than those associated with its US Civil War namesake from 150 years ago.

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,
Apr 30, 2013 Azabu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Sixty years of political oppression have not dulled North Koreans’ appetite for freedom
Tales of flight from the brutal Kim dynasty moved former Wall Street Journal staffer Melanie Kirkpatrick to create a vivid album of North Koreans who dared to make a leap for freedom. Since 1953 about 24,000 of 24 million North Koreans have fled to South Korea. The famine of the 1990s compelled many North Koreans to look for food in China where perhaps tens of thousands live in hiding, or married to Chinese n
Jun 18, 2013 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
This book taught me so much about not just North Korea but the entire Korean Peninsula and the surrounding area. Prior to reading this book, I tended to avoid news about North Korea and it's nuclear program because the thought of nuclear war is nothing but depressing. Now I see beyond North Korea's fanatical family dictatorship to it's people and their serious oppression under the Kim Jong Un rule and being entire cut off from the modern world (and potential family members in South Korea) since ...more
Bill Andruszkiewicz
Very good insight to the reckless and brutal Kim family but was too preachy advocating for Christianity. At points seemed to be preaching to the reader rather than describing the plight of North Korean refugees.
Oct 02, 2013 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was worried this book would be too gut-wrenching for me to handle. Fortunately, Kirkpatrick writes as a reporter and while there are many gruesome things mentioned (torture, being separated from family, death, concentration camps), none of it is recounted in such a way as to reduce me to a sobbing mess. She still raises compassion and concern for the North Korean people and points out what is being done and what is still undone in helping them.

Kirkpatrick does an excellent job of introducing h
Aug 17, 2016 Rj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Writing about North Korea has become a popular subject. This weekend I picked up Melanie Kirkpatrick's Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad (New York: Encounter Books, 2012). Using the underground railroad of the 19th-century as an example and a map Kirkpatrick shows how North Korean's have escaped from North Korea through China to either South Korea or North America. The underground railroad like the 19th-century example is built primarily by Christian organi ...more
Becky B
This is an incredibly well-researched, well-written, informative look at the plight of modern North Korean citizens, and their current passageways to freedom. It is one of the most harrowing modern human rights issues of today, but is hardly known. Kirkpatrick explores what is going on inside North Korea, what various refugees do to escape, and how different groups and individuals are working to get those refugees to freedom despite numerous difficulties.

A must read for anyone interested in just
Feb 18, 2014 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book give a decent history of North Korean refugees and tells many heart-wrenching stories of those fleeing the country. It opened my eyes to many of the problems people have in knowing how to leave, what to do when they decide to leave, the dangers, the political problems, the problems adapting, etc. However, the book would have you believe that the only people who help North Koreans are Christians. While I believe that a lot of Christians in China and South Korea do help people, the book ...more
Dec 23, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, north-korea
If you're looking for one book to read to give you a good intro to North Korea, this is not the one you should pick. Go for Nothing to Envy, Escape from Camp 14, or Aquariums of Pyongyang instead. This book is okay if you are already familiar with the atrocities going on in North Korea and want to know a little bit more about how refugees escape. Escape from North Korea wasn't as powerful as some of the other books that I have read (and mentioned previously) on the subject, but did give me m ...more
Josiah Jost
Opened my eyes to the incredible oppression happening to the North Korean people. Horrible.

Inspiring and moving to hear of the many stories of Christians and fellow North Koreans risking their lives to help these precious people out.

Very long and informative book.
Mary Ann
Jul 26, 2013 Mary Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-ficiton
I could not put this book down! My heart was moved by the stories of the suffering and courage of the people of North Korea and those who help them find freedom from the oppressive Kim regime.
Matt Tyler
Oct 13, 2016 Matt Tyler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Though a tad long and a bit repetitive, this book tells the fascinating story of a modern day Underground Railroad in which North Koreans are escaping their country for freedom.

I have been thinking about North Korea for a few years now, and have read a few books about the situation. Still, this book tugged on my heart driving a desire within me to pray more, to do more. One thing I can do, and which this book encourages: spread information, which, coupled with helping refugees, is very likely t
Feisty Harriet
Apr 17, 2015 Feisty Harriet rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korea
Do not waste your time with this poorly written book. It centers on the stories of men and women who take on enormous risk to help North Korean citizens escape illegally to China and then to South Korea where they receive full citizenship, passports, and classes and funds to help them integrate into regular society. Ok, that is all fine and good. However, Kirkpatrick focuses ONLY on the work of Christian missionaries and seems confident that they are the only people who care about DPRK refugees, ...more
This book is very insightful with regards to the realities in North Korea - particularly how repressive it is toward its people. Discussions seem to be very accurate, and though I have already been acquainted with most of the stories and realities in North Korea and in China with regards to North Koreans there, I still learned some new stories, perspectives, and realities. For example, I have never examined the allegedly positive relationship between length of stay in China and adaptability to t ...more
A heart wrenching, eye opening book on the atrocities inflicted upon the Korean people by their own "beloved" leader. I tend to think of myself as not wholly unaware of the goings-on of other nations and I knew before reading this that North Koreans are gruesomely persecuted by their own government, but there were still accounts given by refugees that shocked and disturbed me.

Kirkpatrick does not set out to merely educate her readers on the trails endured by the North Korean people (including st
W. Don
Apr 13, 2014 W. Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As an American citizen, though I have had the privilege of travel a little (years ago) and catching a glimpse of how some in the rest of the world are forced to live, this book was a stark reminder that I am blessed indeed to have been born and raised in the United States. For me this is a sobering reminder of how fortunate I am, and how unfortunate far too many others in our world are. I have a renewed appreciation for the freedoms I far too often take for granted. I also have a strengthened an ...more
Jan 05, 2013 Gary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want an introduction to current situation in North Korea
Recommended to Gary by: Heard it on NOR's Talk of the Nation
In the 1800's, before the Civil War, there was an underground railroad which would bring slaves out of the South into Canada. Kirkpatrick talks about an underground railroad from North Korea, through China to various countries surrounding China. There are stories of North Koreans who have escaped, along with some who did not. Kirkpatrick goes through the conditions in North Korea, both the oppression and the economic and agricultural conditions there which are causing more North Koreans to consi ...more
Noah W
Mar 17, 2013 Noah W rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This has been one of the best books that I have read so far in 2013.

This book explain the process of North Koreans escaping to the outside world. It addresses the motivation to leave NK, the road to China, what the escapees face in China, and their assimilation into their new country.

North Korea: This book is fairly family friendly in its description of the atrocities within NK and the motivations for leaving.

Assimilation: It is interesting to learn about the integration process for the North K
Fany Pack
Feb 28, 2016 Fany Pack rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
To echo what others have said, this book is a poorly written work of missionary propaganda, trying to pass as an objective account of North Korean defectors. It has minor problems, like how many words and phrases, such as "the new underground railroad," "half and half children," and "Christians," are repeated ad nauseam. The worst part about the book, though, is that the author is not upfront about her religious focus on the outset. I wouldn't have nearly such a problem with it if the author had ...more
This book had a few bits of new to me information, but nothing really ground breaking. I feel this book would be best for someone who is reading about North Korea for the very first time and wants a glossed over account of how North Koreans are treated by their own government. Two things really bothered me about this book. One was how the author made it sound like Christians are the only people willing to help North Koreans. The other was the fact that I was under the impression that this book w ...more
Dec 18, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kirkpatrick details the story, as much as she can, of those who escape from North Korea. How they do it, what motivates the escapees and their helpers, what happens after they escape. Her background as a journalist made for a quick, but not simple, read.
While there are mentions of failures--those who are repatriated and the consequences of such action--those are not the focus of the book. In that it reminded me of World War Z where the worst stories are lost. Dead men tell no tales, after all.
Jason H
Dec 19, 2013 Jason H rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While the topic was of great interest to me, as many reviewers have noted before me, the hidden agenda of the author was clearly to deify the Christian contingent of do-gooders involved in helping North Koreans. That agenda, which permeated almost every chapter, while ignorable in the beginning, eventually overwhelmed the message.

The information offered was interesting and compelling in-between pitches for Christianity, Bible quotations, and free advertising for Christian charities. Unfortunatel
I'd like to give this book an extra half-star just for the topic. I had no idea there were thousands of North Koreans who had escaped that oppressive regime through the secret machinations of a new Underground Railroad, run largely by Korean-American Christians. Anyone interested in the topic will find enough here to make this a worthy read. However, the book seemed rather pedantic and repetitive and was a bit difficult for me to get through. Boring really shouldn't be an adjective in my head wi ...more
Apr 23, 2014 Kristjan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good overview over the situation in North Korea and efforts to help North Koreans escape the repressive Pyongyang regime. I don't know if the collapse of the regime might happen the way it is forecast here, but it does seem like the best option. The one quibble I have is that it seems very questionable to assume that people in North Korea generally believe that the situation is better on the outside. This is based on polling of North Korean refugees in China, but does not account for bias. ...more
Clay Boutwell
Jul 29, 2013 Clay Boutwell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book takes a look at the world's most repressive nation and gives a few heartbreaking stories of those trying to escape. It is inspiring to read how some people (in the underground railroad) give so much to save so few.

When I lived in Japan in the 90s, I heard the stories and rumors of North Koreans abducting Japanese citizens. I even went to a beach where one such abduction was said to have occurred. I remember going back to that States and hearing some people say that NK wouldn't do such
Oct 17, 2013 Mindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very insightful and well written. Thank you, Ms Kirkpatrick for your thoughtful research. It is heart wrenching to read about how the Kim regime has treated and continues to treat their own citizens. I appreciated learning about many of the humanitarian and religious groups that are committed to aiding refuges; now I have a means of helping, at least by financial means. I also appreciated the distinction between China's handling of people fleeing their homeland with the US's handling of a simila ...more
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