Christian Oliver reviews “Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor” in the weekend FT #. He observes:
It is not uncommon for South Korean missionaries to meet defectors as soon as they flee into China, and for memoirs by penal camp survivors to end with the authors turning to Christianity. But Kim’s conversion is by far the most arresting, not least because to understand this autobiography we need to fathom the mind-warping North Korean state cult that shaped Kim in the first place. When that cult betrays him, he needs to fill the void.
Kim Yong escaped North Korea’s gulag in 1999, and his story is told by Kim Suk-yong. On the topic of North Korean literature, Oliver says:
Kim [Yong] is shocked when he meets Soviets who can openly guffaw about Yuri Andropov [former KGB boss and Soviet leader 1982-84 after the death of Leonid Brezhnev]. North Korea also lacks Russia’s profound literary heritage. Solzhenitsyn had Tolstoy to draw on; Kim Yong had Kim Il-sung.