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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.

The Red Box: Misunderstandings and Stereotypes about North Koreans

July 1, 2020

For North Korean refugees, resettling in a new society comes with many challenges. One of these challenges is overcoming the stereotypes about North Korea and the North Korean people.

In the latest episode of The Red Box, our North Korean friends and 2019 LiNK Advocacy Fellows talk about the struggle of of facing stereotypes after resettling in South Korea.

Watch as Jeongyol, Joy, Dasom, and Ilhyeok answer your questions in The Red Box Series!

Read the transcript of this episode below!

All: Welcome to the Red Box!

Jeongyol: 

Are there any misunderstandings about the North Korean people that make you feel uncomfortable?

Ilhyeok: Misunderstandings?

Joy: When I first came to South Korea, was working part-time at a convenience store. I was still very young and had a very heavy North Korean accent.

In South Korea, when a customer enters the part-time employees don't really greet them. But I used to greet the customers standing and say "Welcome!" so people would ask me where I'm from.

I'd tell them that I'm from North Korea. They'd say "oh really?" After they get their stuff and put them on the counter, they'd asked me if I ever had jjajangmyun or pork in North Korea? They'd ask me these types of questions. Some people ask because  they don't know but sometimes they ask questions that insinuate that we were all so poor in North Korea. Not everyone in North Korea is like that. There's people who live well too

Jeongyol: If someone asked me that, I’d tell them I might've lived a wealthier life there [in North Korea].

Joy: So those types of questions made me feel a little uncomfortable.

Jeongyol: A lot of people think like that.


Dasom: People think that all North Koreans are poor, ignorant, and uneducated. People have told me that even though I must have starved and lived poorly in North Korea, I don't look the part.


Maybe some people did or didn't have enough food to eat. There are poor people and there are rich people too. Every country is the same — it’s the same in South Korea too. There are rich, poor, and homeless people in South Korea too. I don't think it's right to judge someone like that. It made me feel very uncomfortable


Jeongyol: When I was in high school, there was a soccer match between North Korea and South Korea. But all of a sudden they asked me which team I'm cheering for. So I was startled by the question.

Should I say I'm cheering for North Korea or South Korea? What's my identity?

Even though I'm living in South Korea as a South Korean citizen, they didn't recognize the fact that I'm also South Korean. That we were the same people.

So at the time I answered, "I'm not cheering for either team. I don't care who wins. I’m just watching the game for fun.” It went over smoothly but afterward I kept thinking about it. But now that I think about it…It wasn't my choice to be born in North Korea.

Dasom: Right

Jeongyol: I could've been born in the U.S. but somehow I was born in North Korea.


Anyone could've been born in North Korea.

It's not anyone's fault. So from that moment on, I became confident. I am just who I am.


Ilhyeok: I have this older friend from China. During holidays like in January, he'd always ask me if I am visiting my hometown. Whenever he asks me that question, I want to be able to tell him that I'm am going [home] but I can't because I can't go back so I just don’t answer him. When he asked me if I'm going home, I just wished that I could return home one day.


It's heartbreaking not being able to go home.


During Chuseok and New Year's Day, those two holidays are when I miss home the most.

Joy: One uncomfortable question for me was when I was in school or met people was when they asked me why there's no riot or uprising in North Korea. Sometimes people ask because they really don't know but sometimes they insinuate that we're cowards.


And with that viewpoint, they ask why we won't revolt against the government. I try to explain but they still insist and say, ”But you guys still should have done something.” That makes me a little sad.


In North Korea, there's a system of monitoring each other. So if one person says something bad, they'd get reported right away and taken.

Jeongyol: In South Korea there were a lot of civil riots so they ask why we didn't do anything in North Korea.

Joy: But it's a very different situation.

Jeongyol: The system doesn't allow it.

Dasom: 

What also made me uncomfortable was if I did something wrong, people would blame it because I'm North Korean.


They say things like, “It's because she's North Korean.” That made me upset. Other people say bad things and make mistakes too. But because of one mistake they say all North Koreans are like that and that I wouldn't know things or be able to do things because I'm from North Korea.


I hated hearing that so I wouldn't tell anyone that I was from North Korea.

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