Demick focuses on several recent immigrants from North Korea to China - in particular, individuals who cross from the area around Musan into Yanji (a Chinese city 15 miles from the border).
It sounds like the situation in North Korea right now is very bad.
I completely missed this story, but last fall they abruptly devalued their currency and wiped out many people's living savings with one fell swoop. The economic ramifications have been awful - so bad, in fact, that Prime Minister Kim Yong-il apologized in Feburary for having caused so much pain (Kim Yong-il was later replaced, in June, as Prime Minister).
Now, some analysts are predicting that the current regime could actually topple, in particular if Kim Jong-eun succeeds his father and does not quickly gain the confidence of the people. This is one of the first articles I've read that talks about the possibility of an internal regime change, and I wonder how much credence the American government is giving to Demick's reporting.
--------------Here's an excerpt from the article with a vivid description of a 17 year old girl leaving North Korea:
Song-hee left home early one morning without telling her parents. It was impossible to cross in Musan, so the girls walked past the main athletic stadium and into the mountains north of the city. After hiking three hours through the mountains, they descended to a bend about three miles from downtown Musan - a spot where the river is no more than a hundred feet across. Although it was broad daylight, the border guards couldn't see this section of the river from their concrete pillboxes. They walked across the ice as quickly as they could and clambered up the embankment into China.When I picture North Korea, I start with St. Petersburg in 1993 and then try to dial-back that image about 10 or 15 years. In my mind, I see a very different world.