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Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country
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Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  410 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
The first of its kind, this book provides a unique inside look into the hidden world of ordinary North Koreans. Mike Kim, who worked with refugees on the Chinese border for four years, recounts their experiences of enduring famine, sex-trafficking, and torture, as well as the inspirational stories of those who overcame tremendous adversity to escape the repressive regime o ...more
Hardcover, 239 pages
Published July 29th 2008 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (first published July 1st 2008)
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Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Mike Kim is a gutsy guy. He's also admirable, having given up a cushy Stateside job for the infinitely riskier one of trying to smuggle people out of the hellhole that is North Korea. (If only he could do the same for the Disney World.) I didn't learn a great deal that I didn't know already from Escaping North Korea, except how people escape the place--turns out, corrupt border guards can be found pretty much all over the world--but the stories are nonetheless shocking & depressing. It's a v ...more
Carrie Fudickar
Feb 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
I was particularly disappointed with this authors tone in the book. Most of the information is offered through the lens of pro-American, pro-Christian dogma rather than being purely descriptive. Oddly, this Christian missionary sites the similarities in the Christian faith and that of the so-called worship of Kim Il Sung and his son and then in the same paragraph is amazed that the North Koreans could possibly believe such outlandishness. No trace of irony detected by the author. There is a lack ...more
Nov 14, 2010 rated it it was ok
I find stories of North Koreans compelling (and often devastating) but I really struggled with this book. The author is not a writer and I found myself questioning his research. The biggest problem I had with this book was the constant references to God and Christianity. I get it; you're a missionary. I really wanted Kim to clarify that the North Koreans weren't forced to study the bible and that they were offered shelter and protection regardless of whether or not they 'found' Jesus. That reass ...more
Oct 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Confession. Remember how I told you that I will pick up books 100% based on the cover? Well, I also get book suggestions from The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. The author of this book was on there several months ago. And after a lengthy wait in inter-library loan, I finally got it.

Don't look at the cover too closely. Just read the title and move on. The title has a picture of a woman grappling with Chinese soldiers while her 2 year old stands behind bawling for her. Yeah, not a good picture
Jun 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2010
Can I give this book 2 reviews?

The first part of the book deserves 3 stars for the portrayal of life behind the North Korean Iron Curtain. I was amazed at the personal stories of the horrible conditions in North Korea. The level of oppression and the government propaganda goes beyond what I could have believed is possible in this modern age. The persecution of Christians was particularly surprising, but I would have liked a more balanced consideration of religious oppression. I'm sure other rel
Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-koreas
Another fascinating perspective into the lives of North Koreans seeking to escape. Somewhat dated book (2008, pre Kim Jong Un), but still relevant.

The author, a Korean American, ditched his regular finance job to go work on the border of China and North Korea, helping North Koreans escape via the "Underground Railroad" of sorts through Southeast Asia that many North Koreans go through to seek asylum.

The work, obviously, was challenging and dangerous, but the author's passion combined with a rel
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book and a heart wrenching look at what's going on inside North Korea. The first half of the book painstakingly walks you through what life is like for the average person in North Korea (albeit somewhat haphazardly).

The second half of the book somewhat shifts focus to the Crossing Borders organization, which helped refugees in China. This is slightly less interesting, and because it's a Christian organization, is written from the perspective of and many times about Christia
Hm. I guess I learned a lot about NK in this book than I did in previous books, like about drug smuggling/use and Christianity in NK. But idk this book didn't feel very substantial. That's awesome that he helped refugees escape and he's part of an organization that helps so many people, but I would have preferred to hear those stories instead. Also ending the book with what "leaders and experts" think we should do with NK was a bad decision. Long-winded and very westernized in a way that I was u ...more
Aug 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I recommend that EVERYONE should read a certain book every now and again, sometimes it really isn't for everyone. This book wont interest everyone, but I think it still should be mandatory that every American read at least one book about North Korea, especially if that certain American happens to be feeling sorry for themselves. You have nothing to complain about. Nothing. Not compared to the hell all North Koreans suffer through everyday. I knew NK still had operating concentration camps nearly ...more
Aug 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-ve-read
The author, Mike Kim, was born in the US as what I gathered to be a second generation American with Korean ancestry. He felt led to go to China on the border of North Korea. He created a non-profit organization called Crossing Borders to help refugees from N. Korea. Many missionaries, pastors, and Taekwondo masters assist him (as he is a black belt himself).

This book covers various stories of those that he met along the way and even some of his own trials and struggles. Some of the stories are r
Sep 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Again, as with many of the global issues I have been reading about, I knew next to nothing about North Korea, so this book opened my eyes about their devastating plight. In terms of the world's most oppressive and human rights abusing countries, North Korea ranks above many of the totalitarian Muslim regimes in the Middle East. It is just stunning. The North Korean people are starving in their own country as the dictator brainwashes them into thinking that they are one of the most prosperous cou ...more
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is not a brilliantly written book, but the story that it tells is rich in anecdotes from the lives of real North Koreans. In this book we learn of the hellish choices that North Koreans must make within their state just to survive, and the almost as difficult choices they are confronted with as resourceless refugees in China. For these stories it is well worth reading. Mike Kim spent several years in China helping North Korean escapees, as a missionary . I'm generally very opposed to anyone ...more
Ken Bronsil
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Mike Kim is the Korean-American who founded Crossing Borders Ministries, a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping refugees escaping from North Korea. Those who make it past the border into China are still not secure because China's official policy is to return any refugees to North Korea, where they will certainly be imprisoned and may be executed for treason.

Crossing Borders shelters and feeds those who make it to China, relying on its network of small Christian churches (which are
Sep 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: creepy, religion, asia
This book cover a lot. Mike Kim spent 4 years working for a non-profit near the Chinese/North Korean border and interacted with a lot of people. These are their stories, but it is not as interesting as that makes it sound. At most a person's story covers 2 pages - and is lacking in detail; which doesn't offer the same heartbreak and anger that makes changes. The book was way more religious than I was expecting, and I cannot tell if that is why I didn't like it as much because I have a bias again ...more
Bonnie Samuel
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I've read about North Korea yet. The author takes you with him as he helps North Korean refugees escape through China to get to South Korea. You begin to understand how impossibly hard life in North Korea is and the bravery and resiliency it takes to escape. Mr. Kim describes in detail the the risks to their life and safety that they continue to experience even after crossing the border into China. The most surprising thing to learn was that 50% of refugees actually end up ...more
Jul 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book gets three stars for fascinating subject matter: exposing the thickly veiled situation in North Korea. However, I couldn't help but think that a talented journalist could have written a much more compelling account of both the North Korean citizens' lives and the work that Crossing Borders is doing. There was very little effort put into transitions from section to section and characters with incredibly moving personal stories were miraculously stripped of any dimension and landed flat ...more
Adam Floridia
Jul 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
I'll get this out of the way: the reading level was pretty low. Kim actually starts one sentence, "Webster's dictionary defines a 'hero' as..." Better writing would make for more poignant and deeply felt stories.

That said, it is utterly mind-boggling to think (rather, to know) that countries as repressive as North Korea exist. Life there sounds unbelievable--like Orwell's worst nightmare. Reading this made me not only appreciate the good ole US of A a bit more (perhaps I will not be so quick to
Oct 10, 2011 rated it liked it
I have this weird obsession with North Korea. And oddly, my friend Jane, shares this interest. She passed this book to me---and I eagerly started reading it (while dreading the stories at the same time).

The book is good and gives a hands-on account of a volunteer living on the Korean-Chinese border. The writer, Mike Kim is Korean---and a strong Christian. Some other people complain that he preaches too much.....he only really talks about God in two chapters...and it isn't to convince you to joi
Mar 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in North Korea, particularly human rights and the underground railroad.
I enjoyed reading this book because I could relate to it and it goes into detail about Mike's experiences in the underground railroad. Although majority of the read felt like an abruptly written blog entry recapping his entire time spent doing this work, I understand that not everyone's a naturally skilled writer and I think he did a better job than I ever could have. I appreciated it very much for his commitment and bravery and the amazing work he and Crossing Borders have and continue to do. I ...more
Jul 01, 2009 rated it liked it
The story presented here is an important one. I'm glad I read this book. It took me a while to get to it, but I was determined to. The stories don't shock me so much as make me a sad that this sort of thing still happens today.

Reading this suffered a little for me because it followed directly on the heels of another foreign / crime type book that had a much easier flow to the writing. It's still good, it's just not smooth.

If you're interested in Korea you should take a look at this book. They're
Nov 07, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: east-asia
one of the worst books ever read. no doubt that the author means well - but well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say. he should have stuck to writing about his own experiences of working on the chinese-north korean border - by virtue of which he thinks he's the next 'expert' on north korea. which he is certainly not. a bunch of anecdotes, most of which are second-hand anyway, are no substitute for reliable information on the 'world's most secretive regime.' and they most ...more
Jul 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Wonderful anecdotes giving an almost tactile sense to the struggles North Koreans face (or at least faced when Kim Jong-il was alive, I can only assume the son is as vile as his father) on a daily basis, making most of North Korea into a ghost town with the ghosts being truly haunting and emaciated figures. However, Mike Kim does push his faith on the refugees - something that is all-together wrong in my opinion. I highly recommend the book for it's testimonials from the rescued citizens, but th ...more
Sep 13, 2009 rated it liked it
Wish I could give half stars... if so, I'd go for 3.5. Informative but very depressing book about life in North Korea and what people go through when they attempt to escape. The author, Mike Kim, has founded a charity, Crossing Borders which attempts to help refugees survive and support themselves after leaving North Korea.

If you ever feel as though some reports that you see about North Korea are exaggerated, read this book... if anything, you'll walk away thinking that the situation in North Ko
Nov 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Interesting read, fast pace. The author presents the personal experiences of many north Koreans all of which was eye-opening for me. Be warned that their stories are mostly of unfathomable brutality within north Korea and exploitation as refugees in China. But there are great experiences of transformation, one nK woman stating that "I never knew what it's like to feel like a human being until now." There are many stories of heroic courage, and some insightful quotes such as "the function of free ...more
Sep 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
A depressing but extremely important book about the incredibly harsh North Korean regime and the desperate status of North Korean refugees.

The writing, while not stellar, is readable. There's a strong Christian overtone, but that's understandable considering the author is Christian Korean American (who somehow never heard of North Korean refugees until well into adulthood? hmm) and Christian groups are the main, if not only, source of aid for North Korean refugees.

Despite any flaws in executio
Jul 30, 2009 rated it liked it
Mike Kim tackles an intense topic that is clearly important to him, and explains why it should be important to you as well. Although I expected a bit more of his writing, especially with such an amazingly tough topic as the plight of North Korean refugees, I can't fault Kim too much. His book shines a light on the people of North Korea, and not the government, making sure that the world knows that these courageous people need our help.

If you're looking for 5 star writing, look elsewhere. But if
Jamie Ratliff
Feb 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
A very depressing but also eye-opening book. I got shivers several times while reading. It was a great close look into the horrific life many face within North Korea's borders and how so many go through so much just to escape. There was a significant portion dedicated to Christian persecution, as you would expect from an author who founded a Christian-based organisation to help North Koreans escape. It wasn't a "convert to Christianity or else" type book, though. I do wish they would have addres ...more
Scott Martin
Jan 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Had previously read this book in 2009 timeframe. Decided to re-read this book, especially given recent events. What is interesting to note is that the problems noted in this book are still very much present with North Korea. I suspect that the social situation has deterroriated greatly in the years since. While many had hope that Kim Jong Un could be the reformer that his father was not, it is apparent that North Korea still operations under business as usual, and the refugee situation on the Ch ...more
Beth A
Jul 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Very scary to learn that this day in age there are still such horrible dictators oppressing their country's people. How sad when a North Korean views China as a paradise. Good story with a lot of intrigue about summgling North Koreans either into China or throught the Asian underground railroad. This author was on The Daily Show w/ Jon Stewart. I've bought six books based on those interviews and have not been disappointed.
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: north-korea

The author spent 4 years in China helping refugees escape from North Korea into China, and providing services they needed to function in their new lives of freedom.

The testimonies of refugees expose the staggering cruelty and starvation they suffered. The risks of leaving the country are so high, yet for many it is the only way to survive. These are all exceptionally brave people.

I couldn't stop reading this til I was finished.
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written for a 5th grader 1 13 Oct 15, 2009 09:21AM  
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“Pets hardly exist in North Korea because most have been eaten.” 0 likes
“An average seven-year-old boy in North Korea is now 20 centimeters shorter and 10 kilos lighter than his brother in South Korea °'7” 0 likes
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