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Publisher's Summary

At age 23, Cullen Thomas was, like most middle-class kids his age, looking for something meaningful and exciting to do before settling into the 9-to-5 routine. Possessed of a youthful, romantic view of the world, he set off for adventure in Asia and a job teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. But he got more than he ever bargained for when an ill-advised stunt led to a drug-smuggling arrest and a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence. Brother One Cell is Cullen's memoir of that time - the harrowing and unusual story of a good kid forced to grow up in very unusual circumstances.

One of only a handful of foreign inmates, Cullen shared a cell block with human-traffickers, jewel smugglers, murderers, and thieves. Fortunately for him, the strict Confucian social mores that dominated the prison made it almost a safe place, different from the brutal, lawless setting most would imagine. In the relative calm of this environment, Cullen would learn invaluable life lessons and come out of the experience a wise and grounded adult.

With its gritty descriptions of life behind the concrete walls, colorful depictions of his fellow inmates, and acute insights about Korean society, Brother One Cell is part gritty prison story, part cautionary tale, and part insightful travelogue into the places most people never see.

©2007 Cullen Thomas; (P)2007 Books on Tape

Critic Reviews

"Reflective, often highlighter-worthy prose....Thomas...lyrically describes his Zenlike effort to stay sane through shoe-factory work and prison basketball." (Outside)
"It's an offbeat coming-of-age story, the tale of a wide-eyed, innocent, middle-class American thrust into a world of deprivation and daily trials that speed his passage into adulthood and a deeper understanding of himself and the fallen creatures around him. Told simply, and with extraordinary good humor, it reads like a cross between "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." (The New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Kathleen
  • Kenilworth , IL, USA
  • 03-25-07

this book could not be better

excellent, well written, well narrated autobiography/diary
mature and original introspection
as well as clear and deep views of other cultures and people
a crisp style which is also compassionate
a remarkable work and a very good audio book
This book could not be better.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Tim
  • United States
  • 02-24-12

Not Overacted

As a first generation Korean American, I could somehow relate to this story. Although I have never been in any prison, the author does well at explaining the Korean culture and give a lot of Korean dialogue in the book. Instead of overacting on the narration with unbearable Asian accents, the narrator using his natural voice, tries to speak the foreign dialogue as best as they can. I've listened to many books over the years where the narration of the story ruins the book because they try to portray the characters too much, where you cannot really listen to them any longer.

The base of this story is about an American, going to Korea, getting caught of having weed and being sentence to prison and understanding the culture and life because of it.

The story was okay. I mean, unlike the United States where you pretty much get a slap on the hand for drugs, overseas countries takes narcotics more seriously and maybe that is a lesson to be learned onto itself.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sandra
  • Boise' Idaho United States
  • 05-06-07

A lesson before living

This careless young man thinks that he can do what he wants in a foreign country. He smuggles dope into Korea. He is caught and then is sure that he will be let go because he has never had to face a consequence before-he is an American after all. Korea has other ideas and he spends time in jail. He could have left that country bitter but instead learns many valuable lessons. He grows up. He comes home a very different person.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • New York, NY, USA
  • 03-25-07

superduper

I've become somewhat hooked to listening to audio books. I work most days with my hands all day and night long leaving me very little time for anything else besides a good night sleep. As much as I certainly do enjoy silence, music, and the news these audio books have definately filled a void. Whether its listening to some Beckett or attempting to learn a new language through Pimsleur.

I found Cullen's story Brother One Cell fantastic. It will certainly share a space on my harddrive with such recent downloads as Absurdistan, Middlesex, and The Coming China Wars. I think narrator Dan Woren is superb. And listening to another American's observations based on his unique experience in Korea is a relevent and insightful treat.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

An Excellent Cautionary Tale

What did you love best about Brother One Cell?

This book is a true cautionary tale for young, naive adults who are traveling to foreign lands and who do not think about the consequences of their actions. This young man was educated and book smart, but he did not process common sense at that point in his life. Unfortunately, that fact led to many years spent in horrible subhuman conditions in a prison in South Korea.The author was very good at vividly describing his experiences; from his initial involvement in the drug trade to his arrest and throughout his prison sentence. He really is able to convey his shock, despair and finally, his acceptance of what he had no choice but to endure (once he was arrested). If you enjoy the tv show "Locked up Abroad" you will definitely enjoy this book.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Daryl
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 03-25-13

Memoir, travelogue, introspection

What made the experience of listening to Brother One Cell the most enjoyable?

I enjoyed the many aspects of this book. For the one reviewer who said that Cullen Thomas did not elaborate enough on his time in prison... I disagree. One does not need to read continual repetition of the depirivations of South Korea's prisons to understand that Cullen Thomas went through.<br/><br/>This is a well-written and narrated book - a memoir, a travelogue, and a deep introspective all rolled into one.

Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Cullen Thomas had to grow up and face himself - his ideas about life, his fear of long-term commitments, and his impressions of the world at large. I fully agree with the reviewer who said that the harshness of Korean prison, compared to many of our prisons in the west, forced him to take a good long look at himself. Whether this was a result of the harsh sentence itself or Cullen Thomas in particular, I do not know. But he had to look at his perseptions of himself, and the ideas of prisoners as well, and force us to read along with his story and question ourselves as well.

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Interesting, but draggy in spots

Would you consider the audio edition of Brother One Cell to be better than the print version?

I didn't read the print version.

What did you like best about this story?

The beginning and the end of the book were interesting. The middle part was a little slow. I would have liked to hear more about what the prison life was like which is a bit glossed over.

What three words best describe Dan Woren’s performance?

Interesting, adequate, and fine.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

How a young man's error cost him 3 1/2 years of his life.

Any additional comments?

I recommend this book and am also interested in The Aquariums of Pyongyang.

  • Overall
  • Starlet
  • SAN CARLOS, CA, United States
  • 08-22-11

Deeply introspective about life in prison

Great Listen with excellent, seamless narration...Every young person who plans on traveling to other lands should read this -- just as a heads up. Aside from that fact, the story is about a young man coming of age while in a South Korean prison -- it's a very adult book and full of insight to one's soul searching strategies.