Saturday, January 5, 2013

Escape From North Korea

Book: Escape From North Korea, The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad
Author: Melanie Kirkpatrick
Edition: First, hardback
Read: Jan 2013
316 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

In the 1800's, before the Civil War, there was an underground railroad which would bring slaves out of the South into Canada. Kirkpatrick talks about an underground railroad from North Korea, through China to various countries surrounding China. There are stories of North Koreans who have escaped, along with some who did not. Kirkpatrick goes through the conditions in North Korea, both the oppression and the economic and agricultural conditions there which are causing more North Koreans to consider leaving there land of birth, even at the risk of death and torture.

She talks about the people in China who assist the Koreans escape. Also about what a North Korean will face in China. China's policy is to return Koreans back to their lands and not treat them as refuges, but opportunists, looking for a better life, similar to our immigration issues with Mexico. Also if a young women or a girl makes her way to China, she may be bought as a bride for female-poor China.

In addition, she talks about activists in both the United States and in South Korea. These are people who are looking at changing the policies in these countries to allow for a better reception for the North Koreans. Also to pressure China to be more receptive to the flow of North Koreans through through territories.

Kirkpatrick feels that there are three main goals in helping North Korean refugees. The first is humanitarian—to rescue people from the most oppressive, closed nation currently in the world. The second is more ambitious. She feels the more refugees are able to escape, the more the North Korean story will be known, causing, eventually the downfall of the current North Korean leaders. The third goal is as the refugees are able to communicate with those left behind, there will be a realization within the country that there can be a better life. This is not a short term project, but more the planting of seeds which will be ready to blossom in time.

There are two things which I was wondering about while reading the book:
  • What am I to do about this situation? Kirkpatrick does not really address that. She does provide links for the reader to do further research. The links are shown below.
  • Most of the groups and people she talks about helping to run the underground railroad are  Christian. I can easily believe that, but I would be interested to know is this a representative sample. Kirkpatrick seems to say yes—that the people are usually either Christians or professional human smugglers. The publisher looks like it is a conservative leaning company, but not necessarily Christian.

 This book is a good look at how North Korea treats its citizens and the extent which they will go to escape.  Her writing is pretty common, but clear. She tells the story. But that is the extent which I see in this book. It is an introduction to those of us who do not think about North Korea. It should get us to think about others besides ourselves.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: In the spring of 1857, the antislavery Vigilance Committee of Philadelphia copied into its confidential Underground Railroad Record and and excerpt from a letter it had received from Abram Harris, a former slave who had escaped from his master in Charles County, Maryland. (2)
  • Last Line: Meanwhile, the escape to freedom of a small number of its people is a rare good-news story that foretells a happier future for that sad country.
  • The first survival tip a North Korean leans when he reaches China is: find a Christian. (41)
  • “No dictatorship can tolerate jazz,” he said (Dave Brubeck) at the time of what Cold War visit. “It is the first sign of a return to freedom.” (63)
  • The example of Christians who put their faith into action is a powerful recruiting tool. (160)
  • Where you live shouldn't determine whether you live. (217)


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