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

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In the News – North Korean Defector Sees Signs of Chinese Policy Shift

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In the News – North Korean Defector Sees Signs of Chinese Policy Shift 

Protesters hold a poster during a rally by Now Action & Unity for North Korea Human Rights activists and North Korean defectors near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, FILE March 3, 2012.

Photo: Reuters Protesters hold a poster during a rally by Now Action & Unity for North Korea Human Rights activists and North Korean defectors near the Chinese embassy in Seoul, FILE March 3, 2012.

A research organization in Seoul says it is hopeful of better treatment for North Korean defectors in China following signs that the Chinese policy of forcing them to return home has eased.

Kang Chul Hwan, a founding director of the North Korea Strategy Center in Seoul, spoke Wednesday about media reports that a family of five has been permitted to travel to South Korea after almost three years in a South Korean consulate in Beijing.

South Korean government officials contacted by VOA confirmed the accuracy of the reports. Kung, who is himself a defector, said his group is still trying to obtain details about the Chinese action. Continue reading