Synopses & Reviews
From the worlds most repressive state comes rare good news: the escape to freedom of a small number of its people. It is a crime to leave North Korea. Yet increasing numbers of North Koreans dare to flee. They go first to neighboring China, which rejects them as criminals, then on to Southeast Asia or Mongolia, and finally to South Korea, the United States, and other free countries. They travel along a secret route known as the new underground railroad.
With a journalists grasp of events and a novelists ear for narrative, Melanie Kirkpatrick tells the story of the North Koreans quest for liberty. Travelers on the new underground railroad include women bound to Chinese men who purchased them as brides, defectors carrying state secrets, and POWs from the Korean War held captive in the North for more than half a century. Their conductors are brokers who are in it for the money as well as Christians who are in it to serve God. The Christians see their mission as the liberation of North Korea one person at a time.
Just as escaped slaves from the American South educated Americans about the evils of slavery, the North Korean fugitives are informing the world about the secretive country they fled. Escape from North Korea describes how they also are sowing the seeds for change within North Korea itself. Once they reach sanctuary, the escapees channel news back to those they left behind. In doing so, they are helping to open their information-starved homeland, exposing their countrymen to liberal ideas, and laying the intellectual groundwork for the transformation of the totalitarian regime that keeps their fellow citizens in chains.
"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 Kim 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.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Melanie Kirkpatrick is a journalist, writer, and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She was deputy editor of the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where she was a longtime member of the editorial board and op-ed editor. She lives in rural Connecticut with her husband, Jack David.