Recommendations of books about unconventional defectors
February 3, 2013 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I've been listening to 'Escape from Camp 14' on audiobook for the past few days, and I was struck by a brief overview of & reference to the story of Charles Robert Jenkins, an American defector to North Korea. I found the concept as mystifying as it was intriguing, so I would like to know if any of you have heard of any non-fiction books about other defection stories that involve citizens of democratic nations obtaining residency in nations that would be deemed objectively totalitarian and renouncing their countries of origin. I'm on the lookout for his book, 'The Reluctant Communist,' but I'd like to hear about other stories of this type as well.
posted by Selena777 to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Not a book, but I was moved to pity by the documentary Crossing the Line, which was on Netflix Instant in the US several months ago (don't know if it has rotated off by now). It makes it pretty clear that all of these US defectors to North Korea were poorly educated, often drunk troublemakers in their military units who decided to defect as a way to temporarily escape punishment and instead were sentenced to a miserable life as show-puppets of one of the worst totalitarian regimes the world has ever seen. I was honestly surprised at how engrossing the story was. As someone who spent 17 years in the military and also got into my own share of trouble, I would never have imagined feeling sympathy for these men, but I did.
posted by seasparrow at 8:48 PM on February 3, 2013

William Potts defected from the US to Cuba. Here is a 3 year old story about the man.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:17 PM on February 3, 2013

Best answer: The Forsaken, the new book by 40-year-old British documentary-maker Tim Tzouliadis, tells the story of thousands of Americans who fled the Great Depression for the false promise of prosperity in Stalin's Russia. Through official records, memoirs, newspaper reports and interviews, Tzouliadis reconstructs the lives of these ill-fated men, women and children, exposing the complacency of American diplomats and journalists in the face of terrible abuses by the Soviet regime.

(Not the only treatment of the subject.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:47 PM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't recommended a specific book, but surely some of the books about Lee Harvey Oswald deal with his defection to the Soviet Union in 1959.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:56 PM on February 3, 2013

The Man Who Stayed Behind.

"The Man Who Stayed Behind is the remarkable account of Sidney Rittenberg, an American who was sent to China by the U.S. military in the 1940s. A student activist and labor organizer who was fluent in Chinese, Rittenberg became caught up in the turbulence that engulfed China and remained there until the late 1970s. Even with access to China’s highest leaders as an American communist, however, he was twice imprisoned for a total of sixteen years.

Both a memoir and a documentary history of the Chinese revolution from 1949 through the Cultural Revolution, The Man Who Stayed Behind provides a human perspective on China’s efforts to build a new society. Critical of both his own mistakes and those of the Communist leadership, Rittenberg nevertheless gives an even-handed account of a country that is now free of internal war for the first time in a hundred years."

On one of the many strange paths my wife's life has taken her, she happened to meet Rittenberg and he gave her a hard-back copy of this book. It's tremendous adventure story.
posted by three blind mice at 1:11 AM on February 4, 2013

Well, many many books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written about the Cambridge Five, of course. You've probably already seen at least one movie based on the events and people involved.

Five students, four of whom have been conclusively identified, were recruited to be Soviet agents while studying at Cambridge in the 1930s. They carried out espionage activities throughout WWII right up until exposure at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, as members of the upper echelons of British society - in government and diplomacy circles, the arts (close working relations with the Royals) and, MI6.
posted by likeso at 1:48 AM on February 4, 2013

Defected after exposure.
posted by likeso at 1:49 AM on February 4, 2013

They Chose China - some of those featured in that doc have been mentioned on MeFi before.
posted by Abiezer at 4:47 AM on February 4, 2013

Dean Reed, the "Red Elvis."
posted by OmieWise at 5:36 AM on February 4, 2013

He only stayed 3 years, but after leaving the Marines, Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the USSR and got married there.
posted by TedW at 5:58 AM on February 4, 2013

I don't think there's a book about Tanja Nijmeijer yet, but I guess it's just a matter of time. (Not exactly what you asked for, but my guess is that she's close enough to be of interest.)
posted by rjs at 11:42 AM on February 4, 2013 is a interesting character. Not sure of any good books
posted by Jacen at 6:47 PM on February 4, 2013

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