Review of In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom – Yeonmi Park

Posted: April 28, 2017 in autobiography, Review

Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

Fig Tree

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Born into a subsistence-level existence in North Korea, Yeonmi’s father, a smuggler of metals, is sent to a labour camp and her family struggle even more.  When he is released, he is a broken man and dies quickly and quietly, leaving the family with no future. Yeonmi and her mother cross into China, leaving her sister behind.

Once there, they are split up and sold several times, with Yeonmi becoming harsh and eventually trafficking other girls to survive. They became friends with another North Korean illegal immigrant and planned their escape.  Almost in South Korea, they are found by Chinese and Korean missionaries who arranged for their passage and papers.

Safe in South Korea, they enter a program to adjust North Koreans to life there.  After several years Yeonmi goes to Costa Rica as a missionary with an American group.   After publishing her story, Yeonmi and her mother are reunited with her sister, who had also escaped to China.

This gives an insight into how North Korea is more than just a repressive country ruled by a fat dude with a bad haircut that threatens to launch nuclear weapons every time he has a bad day.  The poop competition made me laugh though.  I had never thought about how defectors are integrated into South Korea and found the re-education program interesting.

Heart-breaking, horrific, yet inspiring; this is a powerful book that everyone should read.  It’s amazing how Yeonmi can still smile and fight for the humans rights of others.

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