The best books on North Korea: The Guardian


From first hand accounts of gulag survivors to memoirs of defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books on the secretive kingdom: The Guardian

Escape from North KoreaYou can learn a lot about a country from literature and, when it comes to North Korea, the appetite for information is huge. From first hand accounts of prison camps survivors to defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books to get you started.

1. Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 years in the North Korean Gulag

The story of Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who spent 10 years in the notorious Yodok camp because his family was under suspicion for having lived in Japan. Billed as “part horror story, part historical document, part political tract”. Kang defected to South Korea a few years after his release, and went on to work as a journalist for Chosun Ilbo.

2. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Barbara Demick’s critically acclaimed book follows the lives of six citizens in the north-eastern city of Chongjin through the tumultuous period after the great leader Kim Il-sung dies and is replaced by his son Kim Jong-il.

3. North Korea: State of Paranoia

A change of pace from Paul French in this analysis of the history and politics of the country. The trade review promises “a provocative and alarming account of what is a potentially explosive nuclear tripwire“. The book focuses on the economy which French, who also wrote the best-seller Midnight in Peking, argues is central to understanding the policy shifts and leadership.

4. Escape from Camp 14

This international best-seller is another harrowing testimony from the prison camps. American journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to have been born in a gulag and escaped.

5. Dear Leader

The most recent release on this list, Dear Leader is described as “a very rare, first hand account into life in the North Korean society” told by Jang Jin-sung, a former member of the elite.

6. The Orphan Master’s son

The novel by American writer Adam Johnson tells the story of Pak Jun-do, the North Korean John-Doe, son of an orphan master, who has never met his mother. He is sent to the army, first training as a fighter in the tunnels and then dispatched to work as a kidnapper on Japan’s beaches. He rises through the ranks working as a naval spy in Texas, before coming back to North Korea and taking on Kim Jong-il in an attempt to save the woman he loves.

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