Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

Chol-hwan Kang, Pierre Rigoulot

Language: English

Pages: 166


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for "re-education." Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man's suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history.</Div>

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day he was arrested by the Japanese police and died in custody. The North Korean government subsequently named him an official hero of the revolution and awarded his survivors the title of heroic family. Who would not wish to return to a country where one’s husband was a hero? My maternal grandmother, her five daughters in tow, thus left Japan without a moment’s hesitation, arriving in North Korea shortly after my paternal grandparents. The six women settled in Nampo, a large port city on the

secretaryships were responsible for tracking major events: prisoner deaths and arrivals, the transport of goods in and out of the camp, the quantity of food distribution, and so forth. It was easy, human work, and it came with the assurance of shelter. The agricultural teams like the one I was on could be occasionally pulled from the fields to help expedite a lagging production schedule elsewhere in the camp, or to lend a hand at the quarry. On a few occasions, I was temporarily assigned to work

rough patch. Grandmother—always the most loquacious of the brood—lamented her fate openly and blamed herself for the family’s misfortunes. She also talked a lot about Grandfather and with time grew ever more indignant that he was being punished because of some meaningless Party intrigue. “Why not me?” she kept asking. “Why was he condemned and not me?” According to some of our fellow prisoners, my grandfather had been arrested as part of a larger sting operation, which had nothing directly to

were sick that day and had been unable to attend the ceremony. The head of the camp then explained that President Kim Il-sung and his son, our dear leader Kim Jong-il, had decided that, given the ideological progress demonstrated by the aforementioned prisoners, an opportunity would be given them to work for the fatherland outside the confines of Yodok. The remaining prisoners should let this gesture stand as proof of our leaders’ boundless solicitude. Following these brief comments, two

Mi-ho, whose name means “beautiful lake” and who is two years my junior; my paternal grandparents; one of my uncles—my “third uncle,” according to Korean usage, which ranks uncles and aunts according to age and hierarchical standing; and me. My family enjoyed a level of comfort foreign to most North Korean homes, even in Pyongyang. We had a refrigerator, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and even the most sought-after of all luxury goods: a color television set, on which, to our great delight, we

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