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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Beyond the Border: A Korean’s Journey between North and South is a heart-rending and horrific, yet ultimately triumphant tale of one man’s struggle to leave North Korea, seek education, and begin a new life in the democratic and free South. This is the personal memoir of Tae-hyok Kim transcribed by his granddaughter Nicole Kim Rogers based on journals, notes, and personal memories. The memoir spans from his early days on his family farm in North Korea to his daring trips across the 38th parallel, always at risk from North Korean border guards, to his years in the Republic of Korean Army (South) in the “forgotten war”, the United Nations action to stop the spread of communism on the Korean peninsula and ultimately the rest of Asia, to his attempts to seek an education at South Korea’s top universities, and ultimately his emigration to the United States and his attainment of his dream of an education and a new, free, democratic life. Tae-hyok Kim was just fifteen years old when he first made the perilous journey across the 38th parallel to seek work and education in the South Korean city of Seoul. Little did he realize, at the time, that eventually the 38th parallel and later the Demilitarized Zone would become an impassable barrier that would separate him from his parents and siblings forever. This story chronicles the amazing life and struggles of a young man seeking nothing more than freedom and the right to learn and grow without interference from ideologies and politics.
Beyond the Border is a uniquely personal story that chronicles the day-to-day struggles, dreams, and aspirations of an entire nation. Author Nicole Kim Rogers has done an amazingly empathetic and relatable job of bringing her grandfather’s fascinating and heroic story to life. So much of Tae-hyok Kim’s story evokes amazement at his courage, perseverance, indomitable spirit, and sheer determination to succeed against all the odds thrown at him. What came through in this incredible story is the disbelief of ordinary Korean people that a civilization that had lived on the peninsula unbroken for over two thousand years--the same people, culture, language, and shared history--could be split asunder by power-hungry rulers and political ideologies. I appreciated the early school days under Japanese rule when Tae-hyok Kim began to show glimpses of the determination and common sense that would serve him so well in future years, especially during his time in the South Korean Army. The portions that focused on the war years demonstrated the horrors of war, especially a war that pitted brother fighting against brother. That he was able to not only survive the privations, dangers, and horrors of this conflict plus his ensuing health issues and still retain his optimism and humanity are a real testimony to his character and his attitude. His meeting and subsequent marriage to Miss Lee was a sweet and innocent portion of what is a tough, uncompromising story and softened the narrative beautifully. Few stories have made such a deep impact on me. It has not only greatly expanded my understanding and knowledge of the history of the North vs South Korean conflict and the political machinations that led to the divide but it has filled me with understanding and hope, reminding me that all humanity is the same, with the same aspirations and dreams. This is a truly wonderful story that I cannot recommend highly enough.