The Aquariums of Pyongyang

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Anthony Kerum
Modern Asia

A term has been coined to describe the regime in North Korea is ubuesque. The word means grotesque and bloody. If The Aquariums of Pyongyang is anything to go by, the word is well-coined. What is more grotesque and bloody than making concent-ration camp detainees,some as young as 15, watch and participate in frequent executions? Or young children being brutalized by “teachers” in what passes for “school” at the camp. Or children dying in accidental cave-ins as they’re forced to work without protective gear in underground mines. And when you realize that these children are sent to the camps with their parents and other family members, none of whom had committed any real crime, your outrage is extended. Most of these children do not survive because of malnutrition, brutality, and exposure to the extreme winters but, those who miraculously survive transform into savages, quick to steal any bit of food from the guards to supplement their near-starvation rations or trap a rat to add some protein to their diet. Chol-hwan Kang's memoir of his childhood in North Korea is riveting, heartbreaking, and one of those books that one must read in order to understand well the unknown prisons that continue to creep in the worlds society. Kang's portrayal of life in the camp is revealing. His interment occurred during the 1980s, thirty years after the Korean War, and one thing he makes clear is that the camp prisoners aren't all brainwashed drones.Comfortably living in Japan at the time, the family decided to move back to North Korea because of the grandmas belief in the communist system. Very quickly they saw the true nature of North Korea and were deprived of all their possessions and forced into interm camps. When they arrived, it shocked Kang to see what his life would be for then on. In the camp, informants are everywhere, monitoring their fellow prisoners' every move, and they are among the most hated individuals. The guards are...
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