Saturday, 4 February 2017

In Order To Live - Yeonmi Park

'This is my story of the choices I made in order to live.'

This book was incredibly moving. Interesting, also. I obviously have very standard subpar knowledge of North Korea, the standard stuff most people know but rarely stop to think about. I know and acknowledge that life must be awful there, but it's not common I actually consider what this means for the people.

In Order To Live is the story of a young girl who at thirteen starts the most difficult journey to escape her North Korean home, Hyesan in the north near the Chinese border. Yeonmi Park tells a powerful, painful story about her own life that must have been difficult to get into paper or even remember, and I think she's incredibly brave to do so. She describes in a very honest manner how she felt and what happened to her, which is very humbling to read. She's what she never aimed to be, a role model and an ambassador, and a voice for her people.

The story is split into three parts; Yeonmi's time in North Korea, China and finally South Korea. The first one is obviously the longest and perhaps the hardest, but it doesn't get any easier even when you think it would. In the 1990s, the government in North Korea stopped being able to provide its citizens with food because they stopped receiving Soviet support. Yeonmi Park was born in 1993, so she's of the generation named after the black market, Jangmadang. These younger people may not quite share the blind faith their elders had for the government and their fearless leader, but they're far from free. In the book, Yeonmi describes how she believed that the leader could read her mind, and was always afraid to even think bad things of the country. These old habits die hard, especially considering all western media and entertainment is banned in North Korea, and even every school subject and songs and books are filled with propaganda.

Kudos to the Kindle edition for including
these photos like in the paperback, they
really bring this story to life.
The book is incredibly informative, considering it also tells a cohesive story. You can tell that since she fled North Korea, Yeonmi has really absorbed other cultures and stories, because the book clearly understands what parts of the culture are interesting to people outside of its reach. I learned so many curious and deeply worrying details about this undemocratic country through reading this book, yet I never felt like I was being lectured or straight-up taught anything. Yeonmi has also clearly learned a lot about critical thinking (a practice obviously forbidden in North Korea) since she fled, because she is able to say things about herself I would perhaps never be humble or brave enough to admit.

The story told in this book is raw and cruel and horrible, but it's also a story about humanity. The author has gone through the most terrible places and situations only to find that there is more to life than just surviving. There's also kindness and purity and good. I truly believe she's accomplished a lot if only by telling her story to people, but I also hope it's brought her some peace. She's only two years older than me today, and less and less so throughout the book to the beginning. I can't imagine going through what she has, but it is inspiring. I'm grateful that she has decided to share this story with us, and hopefully it will make a change in the world.

It's a bit odd to rate a story that's based on truth, but if not for the events themselves, then for the information, the thoughts and the bravery, I'd like to give this one a full five out of five. I don't see a reason not to recommend it unless you are a bit like my mum and feel the need to carry the sadness of the whole world on your shoulders. If you want to know what life and escape is like at least for some North Koreans today, this book is very interesting.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this book in category 40: A book by a writer who comes from a different (from yours) culture.

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