Reading about Bill Clinton's trip to Pyongyang last night gave me the first surge of hope for the fate of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. I can't believe the two journalists have been there since March 17th, and only now has the administration begun to do something. Maybe delicacy is required when you are dealing with a madman, as Kim Jong-il clearly is, but it sickens me to watch him have the leverage over and over again.
If only we can also do something for the people of North Korea, who are hostages in their own land. When I was in Korea in 1998 for a few months, I met several people who still had relatives in North Korea. Their families had been split during the Korean War. The principal of my language program had aunts and uncles who lived there. Due to the Sunshine Policy, the principal's father finally had a chance to meet with one of his sisters in China after almost half a century of separation.
To read up more about the fate of North Koreans, here are some memoirs I've read. It's very difficult to get accurate information about that country, and memoirs are probably the closest you'll ever come to the truth.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot - story of a man who was imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp when he was just nine years old.
Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman, by Soon Ok Lee - story of a woman who was an approved member of the Communist Party until she offended an official and was thrown in prison.
The Tears of My Soul, by Kim Hyun Hee - a woman who was trained to be a covert operator for North Korean and bombed Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987.
In North Korea: An American Travels Through an Imprisoned Nation, by Nanchu and Xing Hang - gives you a good sense of the surreal state through the eyes of someone like us.
I also recently ordered Mike Kim's Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country, and I can't wait to read it.
To read a shorter account online, click here for the account of Shin Dong Hyuk, who was the first North Korean to escape from a North Korean labor camp.