Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Childhood in a North Korean labor camp

Kang Chol-hwan writes the most remarkable embodiment of the unpredictable consequences of human decision-making you could ever hope to come across.

He spent his childhood in the Yoduk No 15 labour camp in North Korea, where almost his entire family - grandmother, father, uncle and sister - were sent when he was nine. His grandfather, head of a state distribution system, had offended the authorities in some unknown way (and was never seen again).

His extraordinary memoir, Aquariums of Pyongyang, was published in the United States a few years ago but only recently came out in Britain. It is not a colorfully told story, but it does not need to be: the facts sing.

As a boy, Kang witnessed his share of public executions in the camp, and worked on the burial details (many inmates succumbed to hunger and disease). He himself learned to catch rats to survive. The family of a particularly well-fed looking friend of his, he discovered, had turned part of their hut into a rat farm.

[The Telegraph]

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