Following North Korean defectors on their exodus

Much of the information we get about North Korea comes from people who’ve escaped the regime and sought refuge in South Korea, or from the people who do business along the river border that separates China and North Korea.

Lee Hark-joon, a journalist for the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, sheds new light on the ordinary lives of North Koreans with his extraordinary book “Crossing Heaven’s Border,” in which Lee focuses on everyday people, telling stories of “common hardships,” as he puts it. It grew out of a documentary he made with the same name, which was broadcast on PBS in 2009 and was nominated for an Emmy in 2010.

To get these stories, Lee did something unprecedented – he “embedded” with North Korean defectors. Between 2007 to 2011, Lee lived among North Korean defectors in China, enduring some of the same hardships that these terrified escapees endured. He takes incredible risks to tell these stories; the book at times reads like a thriller as Lee makes a perilous, 12,000-mile journey through China, across into Laos and then Thailand.

Lee’s book is compelling because it offers a fresh perspective on the puzzle that is North Korea. He writes about the challenges he faced in reporting on this story and the ethical questions he encountered, and the toll it took on him as a person.        Read more

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