5 Must-Read Books about North Korea

December 16, 2019
People reading books about North Korea.

Finding new information about North Korea can be hard, especially when news outlets focus almost entirely on things like politics, nuclear weapons, and Kim Jong-un’s latest haircut.The good news is that there are amazing books that go beyond the surface of North Korea and reveal the in-depth stories and lives of the North Korean people.

Here are 5 books we highly recommend to learn more about North Korea!

Book Cover of Under the Same Sky by North Korean Defector Joseph Kim with Stephan Talty

Under The Same Sky by Joseph Kim

A story of survival, escape, and a new life in America

Now an internationally renowned advocate, Joseph Kim shares his journey of survival, escape, and building a new life in the United States. When Joseph was young, the Great Famine tore his family apart. After his father starved to death, his mother and sister went to find food in China, leaving Joseph to fend for himself in the streets. To survive, he crossed into China, where he lived in hiding before connecting with LiNK’s network and resettling in the U.S. as a refugee. Check out the Reddit AMA we did with Joseph Kim here!

Book cover of the Aquariums of Pyongyang by Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot

Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Ragoulot

A first-hand account of growing-up in a North Korean Political Prison Camp

Kang Chol-Hwan is a survivor. He was sent to the infamous Yodok political prison camp at just nine years old. He spent 10 years in the camp and experienced the brutality of the North Korean regime firsthand. After being released, he was finally able to escape to South Korea. Today, he advocates for human rights in North Korea. Read more about political prison camps in North Korea here.

Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

The stories of 6 people who survived the North Korean famine

Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick dives deep into the lives of 6 North Koreans during the North Korean famine. Through these stories you’ll see what life is like inside the country and the incredible resiliency of the North Korean people. This book is a staff favorite! Read about the challenges the North Korean people face..

Book cover of North Korea Confidential by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson

North Korea Confidential By Daniel Tudor and James Pearson

A great summary of life in North Korea today

This book will get you caught up on North Korea! Known as the “hermit kingdom,” North Korea is a mystery to many. But beyond the political headlines is a North Korea that is rapidly changing. Tudor and Pearson explore what life is like in North Korea today, the one where citizens carry USBs filled with South Korean dramas and k-pop and run their own businesses in underground markets. Read about modern North Korea and how the country is changing here.

Book cover of The Great Successor by Anna Fifield

The Great Successor By Anna Fifield

A compelling portrait of the North Korean regime and Kim Jong Un

We like to focus on the people of North Korea, not the regime. But this book by the talented journalist Anna Fifield (and friend of LiNK’s) is a must-read. She explores the life of Kim Jong Un and interviews people who have actually met him. Fifield gives a behind-the-scenes look into the rise of Kim Jong Un while at the same time highlighting the incredible changes happening inside the country that are pressuring the regime to adapt and change.

Humans of North Korea: This is freedom

April 29, 2021

I got foreign media from my dad. He was a member of the Korean Workers Party and many of his friends were security agents. They confiscated a lot of foreign media and gave it to my dad and he would bring it home.

Some of my most vivid memories are getting together with my friends at someone’s house, shutting off all the lights, and secretly watching South Korean dramas. It was exhilarating. If you heard anything outside, you’d get startled and think,

“Did they come to arrest us? Are we going to jail now?” It was thrilling doing things we knew we shouldn’t do.

Everything portrayed in the South Korean dramas was so clean and everyone seemed so wealthy. I used to think “Wow, there is such a world out there.” We were taught that South Korea was a poor country but I wondered, “Why can’t we live like that?”

I wanted to wear clothes from the dramas but I couldn’t find them anywhere. We used to get a lot of used clothes from the market down by the harbor. You either find used clothes or fabric and have a tailor make the outfit for you. After three or four days of wearing a new style, everyone would be wearing the same thing because it looked so cool.

My designs were very popular. If I started wearing something new, there was always someone who would wear similarly styled clothes because the number of South Korean dramas that inspired us was so limited. Girls would ask me where I got my clothes and if I wanted to exchange outfits. Bartering was very common and sometimes they’d offer their more expensive clothes in exchange for mine.

But you had to look out for the Inspection Unit. If they caught you wearing jeans and a hoodie, they’d cut the bottom of the jeans with scissors. My sister and brother were older than me so their friends were sometimes in the Inspection Unit. If I knew the person, I would just tell them, “I’ll go change right now” or “I’ll give you these jeans but please don’t cut the bottoms off” and I would go get it back from them later.

The regime doesn’t want people wearing those kinds of clothes. I think it’s because things like jeans symbolize freedom. North Korean society is so restricted that if they allowed jeans there would be no end to what people would want to wear.

Even now in South Korea, every time I put on a pair of jeans I think, “This is freedom.”

- Jihyun Kang
escaped North Korea in 2009. She now works in the fashion industry in Seoul.

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