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Publisher's Summary

North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for "re-education."

Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea.

Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this record of one man's suffering gives eyewitness proof to an ongoing sorrowful chapter of modern history.

©2005 Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Vanessa
  • West Covina, CA, United States
  • 07-10-11

Unique and Engaging

This is a remarkable story of how one man survived the Gulags (aka concentration camps) of North Korea. Whether it be talking about swallowing live salamanders, hunting rats to eat, or attempting to steal an officer's rabbit, this book is full of bizarre, entertaining, horrifying, yet undeniably engrossing accounts of what life is like under the "Dear Leader" and the North Korean regime and how one man could bravely escape his fate.

The narration was done my Stephen Park who did a fantastic job.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Rhea
  • Fort Worth, TX, United States
  • 09-25-13

Another North Korean winner

Somthing about the North Korean non-ficton does it for me. If you like "Nothing to envy" you will like this. Reveals the horrors that every day North Koreans have to face if they step out of line. Every time I read on of these North Korean non fictions I am truly thankful to be an American. It also makes you realize how insignificant your day to day problems can really be. Scoop up this gem you will not regret it. Top notch

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Margo
  • Rio Vista, CA, United States
  • 09-25-12

A Horrifying Parallel Universe - A Must Listen!

This was a hard story to listen to because of the topic. Stephen Park is an excellent narrator, and the high quality of the writing makes this horrific story impossible to "put down". I enjoy books that educate and this one does a good job of giving us an inside perspective on life in North Korea through a personal story of tragedy and triumph. I highly recommend this audiobook.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Compelling, I finished the book in a day.

An illuminating exposition of NK's camp 15. Chilling, affecting, and infuriating. How can this still happen?

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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The Aquariums of Pyongyang

This is the second defector book I have read. The first was about a person born in a camp. This is about some one born in Japan, emigrated to North Korea, put into a camp, and then escaped through China. Unlike the first book, this shows the unimaginable ignorance of the family about North Korea and untold devotion. I can see why people were in love with Stalin even though they never been to USSR. It also shows more detail about China border towns and the RoK's hands off policy with escapees so as not to upset the PRC. This book was written in the early 2000s and so it is a bit dated. The new RoK administrations are more defector friendly. However, the life of the camp and its description is very familiar and is like WII Germany / Poland except there was no active termination ... just slave labor with no care for the living.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Narration, terrifying story

Kang Chol-Hwan's record of life in North Korea is an eye-opening story. It is the best account I have read/listened to regarding the situation. He tells a full story with enough details to allow me to see the full picture and yet doesn't bog the reader down with an overabundance of needless detail.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • San Jose, CA, United States
  • 01-30-14

Solid if ploding story of the North Korean Gulag.

The personal story of one man who managed to escape the North Korean Gulag Aquariums Of Pyongyang is a solid performance but somewhat dated.

Written at the turn of the Millennium it has not aged well. To give the author his due he could have not know how lashing himself to the ship of the George W. Bush administration would tarnish the ending of his book.

The beginning is harrowing enough. The author, a mere boy, is first pulled from the comfort of Japan to live in the "worker's paradise" of North Korea by his foolhardy and ideological family. From there the standing of the family is slowly chipped away until one awful night they fall from the elite of North Korean society, from the heights of Pyongyang to the depths of the Korean Gulag.

From there the little boy grows fitfully to a man and that man finally finds a way to escape and report on the daily grind of one of the Korean camps.

The prose are workman like, and the narration moves along, if sometimes sluggishly. It's a good work, but it is not a great work. I would recommend this as a companion to "Nothing To Envy" which is in many ways the stronger of the two books.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Heartbreaking and chilling

This book is beyond disturbing. It details the role of the state in fomenting a systematic ruthlessness in the human family for destroying their own. I wish every leftist and Bernie Sanders supporter could grasp that socialism inevitably leads to communism. Communism crushes and destroys all that it touches. It's brutality knows no bounds. Capitalism is the only way to freedom and prosperity. This truth is undeniable. The idealism of the mother forcing her family to abandon the nirvana of a capitalistic society in favor of a life in hell speaks to the effectiveness of state sponsored propaganda. All should take heed. There but by the grace of God marches any society lax in its vigilance and protection of individual property rights, civil liberty and individual freedom. We in the west take so much for granted, and generally ignore the real terror and tyranny that state actors inflict upon their own people when not kept in check. So many suffer in the world at the hands of evil governments. It's heartbreaking in scope and scale. One can only hope and work for peace. May the the oppressed be freed and the hungry be filled, sooner rather than later.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A must read, and terrific narration!

What did you love best about The Aquariums of Pyongyang?

This book changed my preconceived notions of N.Korea, and embedded me sympathetically right into the situation that was the life and experience of Kang Chol-Hwan

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Aquariums of Pyongyang?

The thought of how a 9 year old boy was going through such diabolical madness.

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

It kept my interest from beginning to end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wow

What made the experience of listening to The Aquariums of Pyongyang the most enjoyable?

The story telling was uncredible...

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Aquariums of Pyongyang?

When he was taken from his home

What does Stephen Park bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Nothing big

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

Why do you ask these questions audible. I just want to give a review...that's all.

Any additional comments?

Why can't i just rate with stars? That's important too

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Philip
  • 02-10-11

Interesting story from the secret state

This account of one man's suffering in the camps of North Korea is interesting and rare. That said, the author is far from a skilled writer and much of the story seems too descriptive when it should be shocking or engaging. The book that was most obviously brought to mind while reading this was The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which was a harrowing read as well as an important historical document. While the Gulag was in measures shocking and life affirming, much like other fiction-based-on-fact books such as A Thousand Splendid Suns, I came away from the Aquarium feeling like I had read a factual account lacking in emotional impact; this may be a result of cultural differences or the fact that the other authors such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were excellent writers. However, I do feel an audience needs to be repulsed by the events more to really empathize with the author, and too often the most heinous acts are raced over while tedious routines are given more attention. Anyone who has read The Gulag will know how grizzly some of the book can be but also how fundamental that is to connecting with the author's lot.

All in all, I would only recommend this book to those interested in the regime of North Korea and it's inhumane society, but don't expect to be as shocked as you might think.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • MRS
  • 01-02-17

Fascinating read

Fascinating albeit horrifying reading. What a brave and resilient man! One only hopes that change will come to those poor people sooner rather than later