"Crossing Heaven's Border" reviewed in "The Washington Post"

ch19 kimyoungmi looking from china to dprk
Kim Young Mi looks from China over to North Korea. Chosun Ilbo

The Washington Post's Anna Fifield reviewed Crossing Heaven's Border (Shorenstein APARC, 2015), a book by author and journalist Hark Joon Lee. The book details the challenges facing North Korean defectors -- their perilous escapes, the repressive regime that they seek to flee from, and for some, what life looks like on the other side.

"Lee’s book is compelling because it offers a fresh perspective on the puzzle that is North Korea. He writes about the challenges he faced in reporting on this story and the ethical questions he encountered, and the toll it took on him as a person," Fifield writes.

Sensationalist stories about North Korea often swirl in news headlines, but Lee chronicles their hardships as a firsthand witness who embedded with defectors from 2007 to 2011. 

Lee, reporting for the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, initially published the stories as articles, and later as a documentary on the Public Broadcasting Service in 2009. Lee's account focuses on the lives of ordinary North Koreans.

"He writes about the tenderness he sees between a middle-aged couple from different social backgrounds who fled so they could be together; Soo-ryun, who had a difficult escape but found love and had a baby, only to be struck down by stomach cancer; pretty Young-mi, who dreamed of going to the United States but then found she couldn’t even understand the English that South Koreans use," Fifield writes.

The review and a Q&A with Lee is available on the Washington Post website.

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