An original, authentic take on the fissures developing behind North Korea’s totalitarian facade.



A crisp, dramatic examination of how technology and human ingenuity are undermining North Korea’s secretive dictatorship.

Baek, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, synthesizes diverse research, including her own monitored visits and interviews within the hidden diaspora of successful defectors, to produce a comprehensible academic study attuned to the human toll of North Korea’s oppressive regime. Despite the authorities’ determination to punish any rebellion, the author argues, “over the past two decades there have been cracks in the state’s control over the dissemination of information among citizens.” A horrific famine in the 1990s necessitated tolerance for informal markets, which later established smuggling routes for new technologies like USB drives and smartphones. This both fed and was amplified by the stream of defections to China and South Korea, which continued in spite of the cruelties the regime directed toward defectors’ families. Baek looks at the challenges faced by those who flee: “When defectors cross into China, their minds are opened and their worlds change.” Her interviews with such individuals buttress her thesis that the new wave of information sharing serves as inspiration, despite the state’s intrusive surveillance. She documents smuggling methodologies and the material that North Koreans desire, ranging from South Korean pop music and films to religious texts and Voice of America–style news broadcasts as well as Japanese DVD players and inexpensive radios, all available on the black market. Since North Korean society has a strict caste system, Baek argues that this amplifies the forbidden desires among less favored citizens to question the government and ultimately pursue a better life, despite the strong tendency to conform within an authoritarian state. Baek’s writing is clear and patiently structured, which makes her interviewees’ accounts of brutal treatment and the inner revelations caused by smuggled media seem more urgently affecting.

An original, authentic take on the fissures developing behind North Korea’s totalitarian facade.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-21781-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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