A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom
By Yeonmi Park
With Maryanne Vollers
Available now from Penguin Press (Penguin Random House)
I don't often read memoirs. But when I heard about Yeonmi Park, I wanted to read her story. She wrote IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM with Maryanne Vollers, an experienced journalist. Vollers previously collaborated with such luminaries as presidential Hillary Clinton, and she helps tell Park's story with clarity and a sense of openness.
Park was born and raised in North Korea along the Chinese border, a closeness that helped her father smuggle goods - until he got caught. Park experienced both good times and bad times in North Korea before defecting. She escaped to China only to be trafficked with her mother. Her sister Eunmi went missing when she crossed earlier.
Park's story is one of a family struggling to survive and come back together. It is also one of illumination. Very little is known about North Korea due to its isolation. IN ORDER TO LIVE vividly describes everyday life, from food to traditions to fear of who might be listening to careless words. Human trafficking is an issue that people like to ignore, sweep under the rug because it is ugly. Park writes about how the crackdown in China during the Beijing Olympics affected her ability to live as someone without documentation, in fear of being sent back to North Korea.
She writes about finally reaching South Korea, and the difficultly of making choices and overcoming childhood brainwashing, as well as the difficulties of trying to get an education after being denied it for so long. She and many other North Koreans find themselves living a life they weren't prepared for, in a country that doesn't have resources for all of the refugees.
I think the subject matter of IN ORDER TO LIVE is fascinating, particularly since much of it isn't available outside of such primary sources. It is definitely enough to make me overcome my reticence about reading memoirs. I think Park's story is valuable, and understand why she is driven to share, despite the risk to herself and her family.