North Korea today is one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Until recently, no one ever managed to leave the country. No organized, active opposition movement exists, either at home or abroad. Western historians and researchers have had little access to information about North Korea apart from official Party documents and propaganda. This book marks the first time that a victim of the regime, a survivor and escapee, has provided a personal and documented insight into the labor camps, the organized famine, the farcical trials, the repression, and the political conditioning within this "hermit kingdom."Kang Chol-Hwan was arrested at the age of nine along with other members of his family when his grandfather made remarks about life in a capitalist country that were judged to be too complimentary. He grew up in the camps and has escaped to South Korea to document his personal life as a testimonial to the hardships and atrocities that constitute the lives of some several hundred thousand people living in the gulag today. Kang's account of his internment reveals the life-and-death conditions of the camp, the relentless forced labor, and the mental repression that drove the two hours of daily "political training" that followed twelve hours of backbreaking work. His memoir documents the political bartering of food and the "ideological" uses of malnutrition. Part horror story, part historical document, part memoir, part political tract, this book brings together unassailable firsthand experience, setting one young man's personal suffering in the wider context of modern history.