Escape From North Korea
Journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick shares the harrowing stories of North Koreans desperate to escape a despotic regime.
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Within and beyond China, remarkable heroes extend the escape networks into numerous Asian countries as they work to send North Korean escapees to freedom in South Korea and beyond. These heroes include: Steve Kim, founder of 318 Partners (named for Article 318 of the Chinese criminal code which sent him to jail for aiding North Koreans in China); “Mary and Jim,” a retired couple, who run orphanages in China for mixed children abandoned by missing North Korean mothers and desperate Chinese fathers (the undocumented status of these children makes them ineligible for adoption); and “Mr. Jung,” who has undergone face-changing surgeries to repeatedly fool Chinese authorities while rescuing South Korean prisoners of war held illegally in North Korea since 1953.Skip to next paragraph
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The tenacity of such brave individuals is sharply contrasted with the failure of the world – especially South Korea, the United States, even the United Nations – to confront and combat North Korea’s atrocities. Kirkpatrick convincingly argues that escaped North Koreans – from starving children to highly-placed officials – will prove to be the best weapon against toppling the despotic, third-generation Kim regime.
Kirkpatrick is a methodical writer, and "Escape from North Korea" is a solid, matter-of-fact title that falls somewhere in between the unrelenting brutality of Blaine Harden’s recent “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West,” and the flowing narrative of Barbara Demick’s lauded 2010 National Book Award nonfiction finalist, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.” As literature, “Escape from North Korea” is efficient at best; it reads like a series of separate articles patched together. Certain details are unnecessarily repetitive (such as explaining yet again who North Korean founder Kim Il Sung is, two-thirds through the book). Other details seem oddly missing and sometimes surprisingly inaccurate. Kirkpatrick refers to the underground railroad-multiplying organization LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) as “founded at Yale University in 2004 by two Korean-American students,” but identifies only one founder (whose story is one of the book’s most inspiring). Meanwhile, however, Kirkpatrick neglects to tell readers about the never-named co-founder who was actually already a California college graduate when LiNK began.
Quibbles, inaccuracies, and typos aside, Kirkpatrick undoubtedly offers an eye-opening opportunity to explore an overlooked, pressing topic. She shares with readers the harrowing testimonies, the wrenching struggles, and the inspiring successes. Regretfully, in its current incarnation, “Escape” reads like a powerful draft waiting for a diligent editor’s transformative prowess.