The Aquariums of Pyongyang

0465011020

It is a depressing truth of some books that the stories they tell, like Tolstoy’s happy families, resemble each other enough to constitute a genre. To make that observation of the genre to which The Aquariums of Pyongyang belongs – that of Gulag memoir – is not to diminish either the individual or collective suffering described, only to observe that human cruelty tends to lack originality. (There are, for instance, a limited number of ways in which human beings can be brutally interrogated, and you find them in accounts of torture from Buenos Aires to Abu Ghraib.) The interest, then, apart from the salutary but depressing reminder that such things are all around us, lies largely in the detail. In the case of this book, the detail is vivid and revealing.

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