Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Aquariums of Pyongyang Book Review

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (August 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465011047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465011049
  • Genre: Non-fiction
  • Days spent reading: 10
From Publishers Weekly

North Korea is among the most opaque nations on earth, its regime noted for repression and for the personality cult of its father and son leaders, the late Kim Il Sung and his successor, Kim Jong Il. Kang Chol-hwan draws from firsthand experience in explaining the repression. After the division of North and South Korea, Kang's family returned to North Korea from Japan, where his grandparents had emigrated in the 1930s and where his grandfather had amassed a fortune and his grandmother became a committed Communist. They were fired with idealism and committed to building an Edenic nation. Instead, the family was removed without trial to a remote concentration camp, apparently because the grandfather was suspected of counter-revolutionary tendencies. Kang Chol-hwan was nine years old when imprisoned at the Yodok camp in 1977. Over the next ten years, he endured inhumane conditions and deprivations, including an inadequate diet (supplemented by frogs and rats), regular beatings, humiliations and hard labor. Inexplicably released in 1987, the author states that the only lesson his imprisonment had "pounded into me was about man's limitless capacity to be vicious."- Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The book caught my interest.  I borrowed it from a friend and I was excited to read it. While reading this book, I can't help but think that the experience is somehow similar to Holocaust. The concentration camps, starvation, executions, brainwashing, and sanitation that's below par.

The situation is truly heart-wrenching. But I don't feel that much pain in the author's situation. Not because they didn't suffer much, but because they are more privilege than other North Koreans. They're a well-to-do family and they were supported by their rich relatives in Japan. Add to that, the influence and high educational attainment they had prior to imprisonment, which helped them to be in good terms with the authorities.

What breaks my heart most is the bitter resentment of the author's grandmother. I got a lot thinking about her.She truly believed that they will have a bright and prosperous future in North Korea. She only wanted to help her family. She convinced her husband and children to live in North Korea. Only to be confronted with lies and pretensions. She kept blaming herself for causing here family to suffer and even death.

Sometimes, we are also in a similar situations.We are looking forward to a bright and prosperous future. Every problems we have will be solved and it will be like living in paradise. Only to find out that if offers the opposite. Worse, there is NO TURNING BACK!

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