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The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  426 ratings  ·  63 reviews
In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world's most heavily militarized border. He believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in anoth...more
Hardcover, 232 pages
Published March 25th 2008 by University of California Press (first published November 1st 2007)
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Michael Scott
Charles Robert Jenkins's The Reluctant Communist is the story of the defection to, virtual imprisonment in, and return from North Korea. As a young Sergeant in the US Army, Jenkins crossed in mid-1950s the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separated US-friendly South Korea from the Communist North Korea of Kim Il-Sung. Once "over", Jenkins found himself a trophy for the North Korean government, the rare American who decided North Korea was the better deal. For forty years, Jenkins has to live under...more
Frieda Vizel
I immensely enjoyed this book. I think Jim Frederick, the journalist who wrote the memoir for the soldier Charles R Jenkins, deserves a lot of the credit. It is a sixty year story of one giant mistake and lots of strange and real events. An average person, an American soldier, decided in a moment of cowardice to leave his unit and cross the border from South Korea to North Korea, remained hostage there for 40 years until he and his family were released to Japan. I am sure Jenkins is in some ways...more
Sarah Keliher
There's plenty of tragedy in Jenkins' story, but the truly compelling part is how he not only survived, but carved out a kind of peaceful haven in the midst of North Korea. It's a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the spirit. How to make a fishing net that will last forever (you will need one dead pig for this), how to break into the black market, how to build a self-heating floor from scraps or rig up your own plumbing: it's all in here, part of the way in which people adapt to repre...more
Shellie
The words I chose to describe this may be surprising to you, they are to me. This is a sweet story of one bad decision and the consequences. Mr. Jenkins tells his story of living in North Korea with simple words and clear images. It is simple in part because HE is simple. He is so simple because he lived his adult life inside a country with little if any outside influence. I read this book because of reading "Escape From Camp 14" and was as surprised by the simplicity of 'Reluctant' as I was by...more
Tanya W
I really liked this book. It gives a rare and modern insight into life in North Korea. Mr. Jenkins was depressed and unhappy in his military assignment for the U.S. in South Korea, near the DMZ (de-militarized zone). In his naivete and lack of judgment, he made a decision to go AWOL and figured he could slip into North Korea and get back to the US. Instead he was a prisoner for nearly 40 years, in a similar way to how all North Korean citizens are prisoners. He was one of the very lucky few who...more
Michael
What a terrible piss-poor existence this man had. I felt like I lived it with him as I read this book. Every day was the same. Every year was the same.

I didn't want to stop reading it because I didn't want to miss something exciting, but it was just more of the same. Surviving and existing, but not really living. Pathetic.
La Petite Américaine
Incredible. I read this in a day.

I'm so glad that Jenkins was able to get himself and his family out of North Korea safely. As for his desertion, it's clear from the story that he's sorry, and that he paid for it with 40 years of his life in the prison-state that is North Korea.

Great, great read.
Razvan T. Coloja
Not the best book about North Korea, but worth a read. It focuses mainly on the few American deserters in North Korea, their families and their interaction with the system of the DPRK.
Lisa
Jul 15, 2014 Lisa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lisa by: Tanya
Relying on his 24 year old judgement, Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins goes AWOL by walking across the DMZ into Northern Korea and surrendering. He believed that would get him back to the US and short time in the brig, while avoiding a tour of Vietnam. Instead he was trapped in North Korea for 40 years.

This book is very interesting and I recommend it to all, especially those who never give a thought to North Korea. We have it pretty good in the US and we need to protect our Constitution and restore...more
Mazola1
Charles Robert Jenkins, a young GI serving in South Korea just as the Vietnam War was about to explode, and tired and frightened of his assignment, decided to cross the DMZ into North Korea. He thought he would be sent by North Korea back to the United States, where the Army would deal with him more leniently than it would in South Korea. This book is the story of the consequences of what turned out to be a world class mistake, and how sometimes a single wrong decision can completly change a per...more
Fred
Being on a North Korea kick at the moment, this book seemed like essential reading. And indeed it is. Kafka could hardly have written a more . . . Kafkaesque story than the true (probably mostly) story of Charles Robert Jenkins who one cold night in early 1965 walked across the DMZ into North Korea, deserting his unit for, he thought, repatriation back to the United States via the Soviet puppet masters of North Korea. His motive? He was lonely, scared, and drunk. The problem: there were no Sovie...more
Daniel
Not going to lie, I read this book because I was in awe with video the Vice did on North Korea. They followed it up with a blurb on Jenkins which lead me to this book.

If you've browsed the Internet hunting for information on North Korea, you're probably not going to get any interesting insights from this book. You'll also quickly notice that Jenkins has the vocabulary and cadence of a sixth grader (that's probably a direct reflection of both his 40 years in North Korea and just how much North K...more
Matthew
Former U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins' shocking story of dishonorable defection, perpetual hardship, and an unlikely romance unfold in this ghostwritten memoir told now decades after his "release" from North Korea. TIME magazine correspondent Jim Frederick assists in crafting a regret-filled attempt of rectifying Jenkins' 1965 defection and subsequent life across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into hostile territory. His life in North Korea was indeed extraordinary but is everything wha...more
Zach
The story of Charles Robert Jenkins piques your interest right away: a 24-year-old Army sergeant gets drunk and walks across the North-South Korean demilitarized zone, is trapped in one of the world's most dictatorial nations, and is finally released to the Japanese 40 years later. "The Reluctant Communist" is a memoir written by Mr. Jenkins to reflect on his decades of imprisonment in the totalitarian society known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Mr. Jenkins recalls his idiocy that...more
Quizzicalbee
Apr 30, 2008 Quizzicalbee rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
I've been following the Jenkins case for some time, having lived in Japan for 3 years and been frequently exposed to Japanese searches for citizens missing and said to have been abducted by North Korea. I also remember being told in high school that a number of Americans had defected to North Korea in the wake of the Korean conflict. Thus, it was on the one hand deeply satisfying to finally learn of the answer to these mysteries, but on the other hand it was completely astonishing to learn that...more
Brian
I didn't think I would have much sympathy for this guy. After all, he deserted from the US Army and ran away to North Korean in the 60's to avoid Vietnam (smooth move!). He resurfaced a few years ago when North Korea admitted to having kidnapped a bunch of Japanese civilians to use as spy instructors (including the woman who became his wife). But Jenkins is so apoloigetic for his desertion and so upfront about his mistakes that it's hard not to feel sorry for him.

His account of four decades as...more
Leah Petersen
Fascinating read. While I was in disagreement with many of Mr. Jenkins decisions and thought processes he has offered a glimpse into a void. It made me grateful for the extensive knowledge network that lets us take in a larger view of reality. To learn of a entire countries faux reality it made me wary of the "facts" I might ignorantly want to rely on as stable and true.

While the example of propaganda in North Korea is extreme, you can't help but wonder to what extent other countries, including...more
Daria
I loved this book. A heartbreaking story of so many people's lives wasted to a foreign regime. The narrative is simple and naive, but it's also authentic. I liked many of the details Jenkins wrote about his life in North Korea--the defectors' daily lives and struggles: the not so easy friendships between them, their romances, families, short movie careers, failed academic careers, poverty, and the doomed-to-fail attempts at self-sufficiency. I enjoyed reading his account of the dictatorship and...more
Relstuart
If you want an understanding of what it must be like living under the communist regime in North Korea this book will give you a glimpse.

It follows an American soldier on his third assignment (second in South Korea) who was worried about doing combat patrols there. He was afraid of the possible violence. He doesn't go in depth as to what about combat made him afraid. He also knew that his unit back in the USA was being activated to be sent to Vietnam (a conflict in it's opening phases of US inv...more
Christian
Jul 25, 2014 Christian rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: history buffs, students of North Korea, military buffs, veterans
Shelves: dprk
The first time I'd heard of Charlie Jenkins, he was alluded to in very insulting, condescending terms in a list of Americans who, through various means, had defected to North Korea. Western media delights in spreading slander and misinformation about the DPRK (when the actual news should be damning enough!), and how Jenkins was represented was no exception.

The truth is that he was a young, naive hick in the Army who was trying to evade being sent to Vietnam, exactly as so many Americans attempte...more
Fiveftjen
Easy and quick read. Just a glimpse into North Korean life. (What a useless and petty society.) You can't help but think how incredibly DUMB this guy was to get himself into this situation, but then also how resourceful he was stringing together a life with less than a roll of duck tape. Being poor and from the semi-rural South probably HELPED in that regard.
Darcy
Interesting and easy read! I finished this book in three days. A military man leaves his post in South Korea, walks into North Korea on his own and spends 40 years there.

I am now fascinated with North Korea!
Pat
This is rather a sad little book about a sad little man who, through ignorance, made one powerful mistake that he has paid dearly for for pretty much the rest of his life. Of course, it is self-serving as well.
Jill
This is a true story about a soldier that abandoned his post in South Korea,walked across the DMZ,and surrendered to North Korea.This is an incredible story of betrayal,love and the search for redemption.
Kris
It's hard not to say, "you got what you deserved", while reading this sad story. As a young military man in 1965, Charles Jenkins thought that walking over into the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone, would help him escape being shipped over to Vietnam. The scenario he painted for himself before getting blindingly drunk and taking the dangerous walk was, he'd be captured, questioned, traded for a spy, returned to the US, and then be dishonorably discharged, safe and sound in the US. Rot...more
Arjen
Sergeant Jenkins crossed over to the DPRK in 1965 to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. He thought that after desertion he would be extradited to the Sovjet Union and then onwards to the USA, but instead was held captive in North Korea for 40 years. His autobiography is a straightforward account of his life before (poor small town America), during (surviving the throw back to life in pre-industrial times and stress from being constantly minded by DPRK government officials), and after his...more
International Cat Lady
I have *very* mixed feelings about it. I read this book from beginning to end rather quickly, and I found it absolutely fascinating… if at times rather grating.

This book, as you might be able to glean from the title, is about a former US Army soldier Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins who, while stationed at the DMZ in 1965 decided to go AWOL and cross the border into North Korea. He didn’t choose to do this out of some ideological affinity for North Korea; he did it because he had some damn fool i...more
S.
not a terrible piece of writing, and of course, assisted by the fact that a professional journalist co-wrote-- who knows, possibly almost completely wrote the memoir. Jenkins' work does have its areas of quite possible self-serving, but of course one of the most twisted things is that all in all, considering life's in's and outs, it's not absolutely clear that Jenkins did worse off defecting than he would have living in the US. think-- he was a 40 year old marrying a 21 year old Japanese wife; i...more
Miles
Jan 23, 2012 Miles rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Miles by: Leora
Shelves: reviewed
This was a quick and fascinating read. Jenkins condemns himself for deserting, and acknowledges how serious a crime it was to abandon in the field the men he led one cold night in 1965 when he walked over the South Korean border into North Korea. He argues, however, that he has served a 40 year prison sentence, and when you read this account there can be little doubt of that. It is mind boggling for us (and it is for him too) to contemplate the naivete that led him to imagine that he could escap...more
Christine
This is a fascinating, plain-spoken account of Jenkins' unique life in North Korea and what it was like to live out 40 years of imprisonment after his life-altering decision to cross the border. It was especially interesting to read after watching CROSSING THE LINE, a documentary about one of Jenkins' fellow defectors, James Dresnok.

Jenkins' account gives a sense of the minute control the North Korean government exerts over day-to-day life. He tried to convey to his daughters that they weren't...more
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“Self-criticism is a way of life in North Korea. Everybody has to do it, even the highest party members. Our sessions were once a week on Monday mornings. All through the week, we were supposed to keep a diary, where we wrote about the times we failed to live up to Kim Il-sung's teachings.” 0 likes
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