In March, #readingtheworld21 took me to Korea.
Upon my daughter’s recommendation I read In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. a memoir by a girl who fled communist North Korea to China and eventually made it to South Korea.
‘I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.’
Yeonmi Park had no understanding of freedom or what it would be like to live somewhere where you had choices and could make decisions. She grew up being told what to do, what to think, and that their “beloved leader” was not only a political leader but their god. However, in spite of her family’s firm belief in their leader, starvation and the hope that life was better across the river (in China) led Yeonmi and her mother to escape their country, following her sister who had left earlier.
Unfortunately, though there was food in China, it was not quite the promised land they had hoped to find. Sex trafficking was rampant and left the two without many options. Still, with grit and determination, Park and her mother found ways to survive and eventually make their way to true freedom.
Park has since come to the U.S. and has become a leading human rights activist. If you want to hear more of Park’s story, there are several places to hear her on YouTube.
The Last Exiles is a work of fiction and could be considered a companion book to In Order to Live. Suja, a young journalist from an important family, meets Jin at the university in Pyongyang, and they fall in love. Though Suja realizes Jin is from a small village, she does not realize the depth of poverty and hunger his family (and others) face there.
When Jin is arrested and taken to prison, Suja is confused, sure there has been some mistake. When she hears of his escape, she determines to find a way out of North Korea to go and look for Jin.
Both of these books tell a grim story of life in North Korea, a life hard to imagine for those of us who live in freedom.
For another book that tells of a different time in the history of Korea, I recommend a past read, Pachinko. I wrote about this one in an earlier blog post: https://pmgilmer.com/2020/08/29/books-im-reading-august-2020/
How about you? Any books you can recommend about Korea or by Korean authors?