cover image Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad

Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad

Melanie Kirkpatrick. Encounter (NBN, dist.), $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-59403-633-0

Tales of escape from the brutal Kim dynasty moved former Wall Street Journal staffer Kirkpatrick to create this vivid account of North Koreans who dared to make the leap for liberty. The author writes that "Sixty years of political oppression have not dulled North Koreans' appetite for freedom;" indeed, since 1953, roughly 24,000 of the 24 million people living in North Korea have fled to South Korea, Europe, or North America. The famine of the 1990s compelled many to seek food in China, where perhaps tens of thousands live in hiding or are married to Chinese nationals. But if caught and repatriated, they face "persecution and severe punishment." Meanwhile, corps of for-profit smugglers and humanitarian groups comprising dedicated Christian missionaries and Korean-Americans are quietly at work to lead people to safety: Helping Hands Korea, a group founded in 1996, used America's Underground Railroad, which funneled slaves from the South to the free North, as a model for their organization. In addition to her analysis of the political climate of the country and the international community's response to its plight, Kirkpatrick presents harrowing testimonies from dozens of North Korean refugees to produce a timely portrait of a people desperate for freedom%E2%80%94Kim Cheol-woong, a classically trained pianist, remarked that "One of the hardest things I have experienced since leaving North Korea is having to choose what to play." (Sept.)