A rare, chilling glimpse inside the totalitarian regime of North Korea.
Kim’s tragic tale of his six-year imprisonment and death-defying escape was transcribed and translated by Suk-Young (Theater and Dance/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara), who met the author at a human-rights conference at Cornell University in 2004. Gracefully recounted without embellishment, Kim’s story is an example of the profound inhumanity and absurdity of the Communist dictatorship of Kim Il-sung and son Kim Jong-il. Born in 1950, Kim was sent to an orphanage in Pyongyang and was eventually adopted, at age nine, by a powerful couple in the Korean Workers’ Party who eagerly answered the call by the Great Leader to shelter the orphans of the civil war. Only much later, after distinguishing himself in military school and as a trader in foreign currency, did Kim learn that his real mother had purposefully placed him in the orphanage to disguise the fact that Kim’s father had been executed as a spy for the Americans during the Korean War. A routine check of his background for promotion revealed the truth of his parentage, and Kim, despite his exemplary career and lifelong loyalty to his country, was hauled away from his wife and children in 1993. He was incarcerated in the slave-labor coal mines of Camp Nos. 14 and 18, within the kwanliso system that housed thousands of prisoners in secluded areas of North Korea. Slow starvation, hard labor and extreme conditions meant certain death. Realizing that he had nothing to lose, he escaped by hiding in one of the coal cars on the train heading north. The tales of his subsequent perilous journey to the Chinese border and flight to Mongolia are astonishing.
Thanks to Kim’s courageous testimony, as the translator notes in an excellent contextual introduction, knowledge of these camps has been exposed to the outside world.