Displays little art or artifice but freezes the heart and seizes the soul.

THE AQUARIUMS OF PYONGYANG

TEN YEARS IN THE NORTH KOREAN GULAG

A young man who spent ten years of his youth in a North Korean prison camp tells the story of his life before his family’s arrest, of his dreary years of imprisonment, of his release, and of his perilous escape through China to South Korea.

Rigoulot speaks only in the introduction, where he declares that this is “the first detailed testimony about a North Korean prison camp to be published in the West.” And a chilling testimony it is. With his family in Pyongyang, Chol-hwan was living fairly well, by North Korean standards. His principal childhood interest was tropical fish—at one time he had ten aquariums lining the walls of his room. After an interlude for some family history and a description of daily life in Korea, Chol-hwan reports the ominous disappearance of his grandfather in 1977 when the author was only nine. The old man had been guilty of some vague treason against what is portrayed as a quintessentially paranoid government. A few weeks later, four security agents appeared, helped themselves to most of the family’s possessions, and then sent virtually the entire family off to the mountainous Yodok prison camp. Only the mother was spared: her family had a “heroic” background. In remarkably serene prose, Chol-hwan describes the deprivations and horrors he and his loved ones experienced for the next ten years, including living in fetid quarters, dressing in rags, suffering continual humiliations and beatings, eating salamanders (raw) and rats (cooked), working in brutal conditions, and witnessing numerous executions—almost always for attempted escapes. An enterprising and strong boy, Chol-hwan learned the ropes and how to twirl them and so managed to survive and even to feel some sorrow at leaving his friends when, unexpectedly, the authorities released his entire family. The final third of the narrative deals with the author’s reintegration into North Korean society and his eventual escape to the south.

Displays little art or artifice but freezes the heart and seizes the soul.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-465-01101-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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

NIGHT

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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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