From firsthand accounts of gulag survivors to memoirs of defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s a pick of the best books on the secretive kingdom from The Guardian:
1. Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 years in the North Korean Gulag
The story of Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who spent 10 years in the notorious Yodok camp because his family was under suspicion for having lived in Japan. Billed as “part horror story, part historical document, part political tract”. Kang defected to South Korea a few years after his release, and went on to work as a journalist for Chosun Ilbo.
2. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Barbara Demick’s critically acclaimed novel follows the lives of six citizens in the north-eastern city of Chongjin through the tumultuous period after the great leader Kim Il-sung dies and is replaced by his son Kim Jong-il. Demick, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, based the book on the accounts of of six North Korean defectors and photos and videos smuggled out of the country.
3. North Korea: State of Paranoia
A change of pace from Paul French in this analysis of the history and politics of the country. The trade review promises “a provocative and alarming account of what is a potentially explosive nuclear tripwire”. The book focuses on the economy which French, who also wrote the best-seller Midnight in Peking, argues is central to understanding the policy shifts and leadership.
4. Escape from Camp 14
This international best-seller is another harrowing testimony from the prison camps. American journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person to have been born in a gulag and escaped.
5. Dear Leader
The most recent release on this list, Dear Leader is described as “a very rare, first hand account into life in the North Korean society” told by Jang Jin-sung, a former member of the elite.
6. The Orphan Master’s son
The novel by American writer Adam Johnson tells the story of Pak Jun-do, the North Korean John-Doe, son of an orphan master, who has never met his mother. The book was widely praised earning Johnson the Pulitzer prize for fiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2013.
7. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader
By Bradley K Martin, a 900 pages portrait of Kim II-sun and Kim Jong-iI, which Daily NK says is an “excellent, well-researched insight into the nature of the North Korean regime, the way it indoctrinates from birth, the way it controls, monitors and crushes dissent.”
8. This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood
The story of Kang Hyok’s childhood in North Korea, co-authored by Philippe Grangereau. Kang lived through famine in the north, the hardest hit area of the country, an account of country living under a disturbing notion of “paradise”.