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Long Road Home

Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor

KIM YONG
with KIM SUK-YOUNG
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 184
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/kim-14746
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  • Book Info
    Long Road Home
    Book Description:

    Kim Yong shares his harrowing account of life in a labor camp-a singularly despairing form of torture carried out by the secret state. Although it is known that gulags exist in North Korea, little information is available about their organization and conduct, for prisoners rarely escape both incarceration and the country alive. Long Road Home shares the remarkable story of one such survivor, a former military official who spent six years in a gulag and experienced firsthand the brutality of an unconscionable regime.

    As a lieutenant colonel in the North Korean army, Kim Yong enjoyed unprecedented privilege in a society that closely monitored its citizens. He owned an imported car and drove it freely throughout the country. He also encountered corruption at all levels, whether among party officials or Japanese trade partners, and took note of the illicit benefits that were awarded to some and cruelly denied to others.

    When accusations of treason stripped Kim Yong of his position, the loose distinction between those who prosper and those who suffer under Kim Jong-il became painfully clear. Kim Yong was thrown into a world of violence and terror, condemned to camp No. 14 in Hamkyeong province, North Korea's most notorious labor camp. As he worked a constant shift 2,400 feet underground, daylight became Kim's new luxury; as the months wore on, he became intimately acquainted with political prisoners, subhuman camp guards, and an apocalyptic famine that killed millions.

    After years of meticulous planning, and with the help of old friends, Kim escaped and came to the United States via China, Mongolia, and South Korea. Presented here for the first time in its entirety, his story not only testifies to the atrocities being committed behind North Korea's wall of silence, but it also illuminates the daily struggle to maintain dignity and integrity in the face of unbelievable odds. Like the work of Solzhenitsyn, this rare portrait tells a story of resilience as it reveals the dark forms of oppression, torture, and ideological terror at work in our world today.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51928-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface (pp. vii-x)
    S. Y. Kim
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xii)
    K.Y. and K.S.Y.
  5. Author’s Note (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-18)
    KIM SUK-YOUNG

    North Korea is a place of palpable contradictions. On the one hand, in the years immediately following the devastating Japanese colonial rule (1910–45) and the Korean War (1950–53), it achieved a remarkable degree of economic growth and social reconstruction. On the other hand, it has sustained its legitimacy through a ruthless dictatorship and personality cult that can only be maintained at the cost of forsaking civil society and human rights. According to North Korea’s official claim, everyone lives a happy life, and yet, in recent years, so many have left this paradise in search of food and better...

  7. 1 Coming of Age (pp. 19-34)

    But where was my home anyway?

    What does my memory tell me about it?

    My first home was the state-run orphanage in Pyongyang, where I grew up under the loving care of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung, the founding father of North Korea. My first dear memory about this home, however, is not associated with the Great Leader but with Kim Hye-hwa, the kind nanny who nurtured me even before I could remember. A warm, loving person, Kim Hye-hwa always had a modest but kind aura. This graceful lady had lost an infant son of my age during the Korean...

  8. 2 Living for the Great Leader (pp. 35-60)

    My first impressions of the vast sea in Cheongjin still make my heart churn with wild sensations. Its deep blue horizon and salty breeze enraptures me with raw excitement and portentous delight.

    “To all the youth of this country, to the sea, the nation calls you forth!”

    The slogan filled my heart with dizzy thrill and resounded throughout North Korea at the time I finished Revolutionary School in the late 1960s. Our Great Leader Kim Il-sung was encouraging young people to volunteer to go to the seaside in order to expand usable land and construct new ports to boost trade...

  9. 3 Downfall of a Model Citizen (pp. 61-78)

    As my own life evolved into a pattern of normalcy, I became increasingly interested in my own background. Where did I come from? What happened to my birth parents, and how did I end up in the orphanage? None of this was known to me and I burned with curiosity whenever I thought about these questions. But as I was very busy with my work in the trade company, there was little time to contemplate my unknown past. Eventually, my curiosity grew into determination that I should find out about my parents. To have grown up as an orphan gave...

  10. 4 In the Mouth of Death (pp. 79-104)

    In North Korea, everyone knows that a labor camp is a place where life is suspended. One does not live there, one slowly dies there. I was simply another dead soul in Camp No. 14.

    At 5:00 a.m. everyone was awakened. By 6:00 a.m. the prisoners had finished their meager breakfast and marched toward the workplace. Since the mine shafts were hidden in deep valleys, nobody could see the sunlight. At 7:00 we were already busy at work. Between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m., we had a quick lunch underground in the mine shaft. In order to go to the toilet,...

  11. 5 Escape (pp. 105-126)

    I had lost my mother forever, but out of that loss was born a burning desire to learn everything about my family. Now I was the only surviving member of my generation and had to understand why such tragedy had befallen us. I simply had to survive to discover the unknown part of our family history. Mother used to encourage me to escape even before her final arrest. She felt she was doomed to end her life in this atrocious place, but she believed that I still had a chance. I wanted to escape in order to fulfill her wish,...

  12. 6 Across the Continent (pp. 127-156)

    The missionary couple led me to a Korean-Chinese worker couple’s household in Yanji and gave me US$230 as an emergency fund. My hosts worked all day in town, so they had me hide in a room and gave me both food and a bucket that I could use as a toilet. By the time they returned home from work, the entire room reeked. I felt embarrassed handing the bucket over to them to take out and empty. In an effort not to embarrass me further, they said nothing at those moments. They seemed to be close to the South Korean...

  13. Afterword UNFINISHED STORY (pp. 157-164)

    The first days in South Korea were marked by alterating excitement, relief, and exhaustion. I was immediately escorted to a heavy-security debriefing facility where many South Korean intelligence officers asked me an endless succession of questions—one after another. I told them everything. They paid attention to every detail and treated me with respect appropriate for my rank in the North Korean People’s Army. Although I did not have to worry about imminent danger of being captured or sent back, I felt weary. I felt confined within the white walls of the modern facility, regularly served meals, and polite intelligence...

  14. Notes (pp. 165-168)