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A hunger to survive

After her husband and son died of starvation, there was nothing to keep Mrs Song in North Korea. Her story highlights the grim reality of life for the country’s 24m people

By Barbara Demick   March 2010

Kim Chaek Ironworks in the industrial city of Chongjin, the largest ironworks in North Korea

When I first met Song Hee-Suk, in 2004, she had been out of North Korea for two years. I was interviewing people from Chongjin—an industrial city in the far northeast of North Korea, near the Chinese border—for the Los Angeles Times. We arranged to meet at the paper’s office in Seoul. I opened the door to an immaculately dressed, tiny woman who exuded confidence. She wore a large jade ring and a pink polo shirt tucked into neatly pressed beige trousers. Everything from her…

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