David's Reviews > The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan
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's review
Jul 20, 2009

really liked it
Read in July, 2009

This is the memoir of Kang Chol-Hwan: a short narrative description of his young life in the North Korean Gulag mixed with his views on North-Korean politics. There is a new preface that continues where the original epilogue leaves off, discussing the plight of the modern North-Korean in an increasingly more interested world.

It was a difficult read at times. Kang Chol-Hwan's story is a brutal one, especially as he was a child, growing up in Pyongyang, and then taken with his family to the prison camp at Yodok. What happened to him and his relatives there is brutal, and seemingly commonplace in North Korea. The worst part is that this story is not ended when I close the book. Even now Yodok and many camps like it are still open and atrocities against humanity continue daily.

It reminded me of an account of the Russian Gulag in "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". But at least then I could say that was years ago. Chol-Wan has written a powerful memoir that exposes many of the lies and horrid cruelties of North Korea, and it seems aimed at the ambivalent South Koreans he has met in his new life.

Who would have known that now in the first years of the 21st century there is a place where children are beaten, humiliated daily, observe executions, bury corpses, stripped of all their freedoms and individual thought, forced to become part of a working machine and doomed to this fate for the rest of their lives due to corruption in government and the blind idealism and hypnotism of the Kim Jong-Il cult of personality and despicably corrupt and isolated communist DPRK.

If you are unfamiliar with the current situation in North Korea then I urge you to read this short book and start opening the window to that world.

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