Book Reviews

“The Aquariums of Pyongyang” Book Review

North Korea is known for its human rights abuses and communist rule. Still few make it out of North Korea alive so it’s a privilege to read the story of a concentration camp survivor in  “The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag”” as told by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulet.  Brutal and depressing yet with glimmers of hope, he recounts the horrors and devastation his family were subjected to in camp Yodok. It was a surprise to the family to be sent to camp as they were fairly well off and supported Kim Il-sung, yet were taken to camp and forced to live in unsanitary and deplorable conditions for 10 years of reprogramming.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

The title is taken from his first few months in the camp. While living relative freedom as a child before the camp, Kang was an avid collector of fish and had a few aquariums in his room. When they were abruptly taken away from their home the police only allowed them to take a few items from their home. At nine years old he grabbed his smallest aquarium and cried in protest until he was allowed to bring it with him. Thanks to the terrible living conditions the fish die, but were a help to him through the hard part of transitioning from a middle class lifestyle to forced labor in tempestuous weather and dirt floors. He was taken to the camp with his grandmother, father, uncles, and sister. His mother was not allowed to go with them. She was saved from the camps because her father was famous for being a hero in the eyes of the N. Korean government. Despite this she did try to be sent away to camp with her family, but was discouraged under the threat of more of her family being sent to camps as well.

After a suggestion by a friend I read this book immediately after reading about the fall of the Berlin Wall in “The Year That Changed the World” by Michael Meyer. The knowledge that while that wall eventually fell, the wall around Korea is still up and causing suffering gives me hope, but at the same time breaks my heart.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Hope’s Boy a Memoir by Andrew Bridge

If you never had any experience with the USA foster system this book will be startling. If like me you have volunteered in the system or been entangled for another reason than it will be uplifting. Andrew Bridge was placed in foster care as a child and stayed in the system for 11 years.  I was a volunteer with the San Diego Voices For Children CASA program and it was both a wonderful and heartbreaking experience.

youth in the foster system, experiences of foster kids, how we treat children and youth.
Hopes Boy a Memoir by Andrew Bridge

One particularly memorable moment from my time  as a foster care volunteer stands out in my mind.  I had the privilege to hear a panel of teens who were or had been in the system, share their experiences.  A bright young woman shared the most amazingly simple words of wisdom when an audience member asked what foster families can do to make the system better.  She replied that foster families MUST acknowledged that this new child has a family who is a large part of them. They may not be the best parents or provide the healthiest environment, but they share a bond. This is exactly what Andrew writes about in his memoir.

This book was so engaging that I finished it in two days. Like many foster youth he was sent to a center that held mass amounts of youth, but unlike many foster stories somehow Andrew was sent to live and remained in a single home for the majority of his time.  This wasn’t the most loving home at times it seems quite unhealthy, but somehow he survived and thrived. He grew up and  found a career that has helped countless other foster youth. I was so curious to find out what would happen to this boy. Would he be safe? Would he be damaged from the system? Would he ever see his mom again?  Could he keep hope for a happy ending alive?

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is concerned about or works with youth, teachers, parents, and those considering foster parenting or adoption. He gives you a look into the private life of a young boy who becomes a man that creates great positive change. His story is at times sad, but ultimately uplifting.  Pass this post on with your friends and family.  Buy this book! Learn more at

On a personal note, I have wanted to be a foster parent for over half of my life and this want has never dimmed. I took to heart what I learned that night along with all I continue to learn with my other foster s system related volunteering. I know it will not be easy and I have no expectations from whomever I am lucky enough to provide a safe home for, but I know that this is part of my future. All children deserve to feel love.



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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain, books for introverts, introverts in societyQuiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

I really enjoyed this book since so much of our culture moves too fast and loud way too often for my tastes.  Susan covers the science of why and how we become more introverted or extroverted.  She surmises that it is a mix of brain function and environment. When you read it you get to learn fun names for parts of our brain and body like the amygalda(plays a key role in emotions), limbic system( set of brain structure controlling various bodily functions), neocortex(high functions such as sensory perception), and prefrontal cortex(short term and long term decisions making).

If you are an introvert or simply don’t understand introverts this could be your book.

I was called an introvert often when I was younger and HATED it because I thought it meant weak and scared. That seems to be the way society expects that label to be used. Sadly I became that label for 17 years.

After a while I realized that for me introverted simply shines through in my enjoyment of being quiet and listening to others because that is the best way for me to learn. I can be extroverted if I push myself to for work or am surrounded by people that cause me to feel comfortable and safe, but I like that I have this ability to turn into myself and love that part of me. As I get older and wiser I find it easier to keep a balance between the two and use as needed in each unique situations.

There is another book you might like called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. It does a great job of explaining the pros of being introverted in a society so biased towards celebrating extroverted people.

What is a Great Book That You Have Read?

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