‘I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.’
Yeonmi Park was not dreaming of freedom when she escaped from North Korea. She didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All she knew was that she was running for her life, that if she and her family stayed behind they would die – from starvation, or disease, or even execution.
This book is the story of Park’s struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China’s underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist – all before her 21st birthday.
Wow. This book is incredibly powerful.
It is the true story of Yeonmi Park, a girl brought up in North Korea under an oppressive regime, escaping to save her life and those of her family, then finding freedom and her true vocation on the way.
The events contained are terrible, harrowing, and very difficult to read in places. There is loss, deprivation, violence and sexual abuse.
The narrative tone and language are simple, direct and unemotional. This is not a ‘story’. It is just what is, and was. This happened. There is no appeal for sympathy or pity, just a recounting of facts, from someone who took a long time to see the truth of them for herself.
For the first time I got a clear idea of exactly how the kind of population control and manipulation described in George Orwell’s 1984 could work, and I was horrified that this is a reality that people live daily, rather than a dystopian novel.
However, the book is not a depressing read, but an inspiring one. Yeonmi Park’s sheer determination to not just survive but really live is awe-inspiring and the joy that shines through when she discusses the books she has read and the learning she has devoured (just as hungrily as she once craved food) made me beam in recognition of a kindred soul.
“I inhaled books like other people breathe oxygen. I didn’t just read for knowledge or pleasure, I read to live.”
― Yeonmi Park,
Yeonmi Park’s story is not one of self-pity, although there is plenty of hardship. Instead there is a modest recognition that every life has its own struggles, and an assumption that the survival instincts shown by herself and her family are as natural as a plant turning towards the sun. Here I would disagree, because in my opinion the strength and courage that quietly pervades this account is extraordinary and deserves acknowledgement.
“We all have our own deserts. They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose in life and be free.”
― Yeonmi Park,