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I read widely and in most genres but romance and westerns. Here you'll find my reviews since 2007, with a few reviews of previously read books as well.


In 2012, I completed an "authors of the world" challenge, reading a book for every country (and a few other entities) by someone who'd lived there for at least two years. I expect to tag these books by challenge and country in the near future. I'm still refining my list by adding books that better meet my challenge criteria.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag - Kang Chol-Hwan, Pierre Rigoulot North Korea (but not my first from there).A memoir by a child whose family, though highly politically active on behalf of Kim Il-Sung's government, was interned in Yodok, one of North Korea's labor camps. He was there for 10 years, through his late childhood (age 9) and adolescence. Though then released, he remained under observation. Threatened with a return to the camps because he listened to South Korean radio, he fled to China, then to South Korea.The memoir is interesting and serviceable, if not literary. Although there are many statements about emotions, the narrative is more expository than demonstrative. I particularly would have liked to know more details about the family's interactions in the camp (for example, did they share food they stole, or was it everyone for himself?) and about how he manages the emotional and psychological consequences of fleeing the country, knowing that this would bring potentially extreme negative consequences to his remaining family.It could have uses a better editor, both for narrative flow and structure. In addition, it would have benefited from further attention to details. For example, Kang reports that his first detail as a child detainee was on a team that carried meter-long logs from the mountains to the village 3-4 kilometers away. He says that it took 12 round trips (72 to 96 km, or about 47.5 to 63 miles) to meet the daily quota from 1:00 PM on. Assuming they worked from 1:00-9:00 PM, probably an overestimate, with no breaks, the children would have had to cover 6 miles an hour at a minimum, on foot, carrying "terribly heavy" meter-long logs half the time. It's simply not possible. He then goes on to say that it added up to 40 kilometers in 12 round trips.That's still over 26 miles in a shift, with logs, but makes each leg of the trip 1.67 kilometers, not 3-4 (p. 71). If you assume that, though difficult to miss, this was an editorial error, that's fine. If, like some reviewers, you think he's exaggerating in a more general way, it is worth taking a look at other escapees' (and Amnesty International's) accounts of oppression in North Korean and similar dictatorships, which substantiate his assertions even if some details are suspect.