The Aquariums of Pyongyang: a book review and interview with a teacher

Having worked in the field of North Korean human rights, I come across accounts of defectors’ experiences in North Korea quite often. However, I am ashamed to admit that it took me years to finally get around to reading this book. Of course, it wasn’t because I had never heard of it until now. Just about everyone I know that works in the field has read The Aquariums of Pyongyang and I feel like it’s even become a sort of rite of passage.

About a month ago, I met with my high school literature teacher, Mrs. Jeanelle Francis. I haven’t seen her and her husband, another teacher at the same school, since I graduated high school six years ago and I wanted to grab lunch to catch up. When she heard that I was working at a non-governmental organization in Seoul on North Korean issues, she got very excited. She began telling me that she had read the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang and then had incorporated it into her AP Literature class lessons. I later asked if she would do an interview for me regarding her experiences teaching the book, which I have included in the article at the bottom. But first, I’d like to discuss my impression of the book. Continue reading

Nothing to Envy

By Michelle Trujillo

To be honest, it has not been very long since I decided to make North Korean human rights my goal, my devotion in life. I went to college thinking I would later become a psychologist and counsel young children. What I didn’t know was that several chance encounters would have me graduating college as a political science major fervent about bringing freedom to North Korea. I could tell you about all of these special encounters but today I’d like to focus on just one: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.

Barbara Demick is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and has been interviewing North Korean refugees and defectors since 2001, when she moved to Seoul. During her stay in Korea, she has interviewed over a hundred defectors. Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six of those North Korean defectors, all from the same North Korean town but as different from one another as is possible. Continue reading