Shruti Mishra, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
The 38th parallel in East Asia, also known as Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), divides the Korean peninsula into two separate nations. Since 1950, when the division took place, the northern region is being ruled by the Kim regime, the present leader, Kim Jong-un, being the Kims’ third generation. One of the most repressive countries in the world, North Korea is a highly secretive nation whose power cannot be ignored, thanks to its nuclear prowess.
Almost 1000 people escape North Korea every year, despite having good chances of being caught and put into labour camps . Something was going eerily wrong in this region that in the face of such mercilessness, Yeonmi Park, at the mere age of 13, escaped from North Korea in 2007. Her memoir ‘In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom’ is an account of such a brave escape. It’s a story of Yeon-mi and her family’s struggle and hardships, her account of escape from the infamous country, and her journey to freedom. It is a first-hand account of life in the ‘mysterious nation’ and is a source which satisfies our curiosity of knowing what mystery lies in this part of the Asian continent.
Divided into three sections, though the book is an easy read, it becomes quite a task to comprehend the things emotionally. There are stories and descriptions in the book which you want to believe are mere fictional stories, but it becomes really hard to accept that this is the reality of an unobscured part of the world. As I look at it, the book has two allegories existing simultaneously, one trying to overpower the other. First is that of the whole cosmos plotting against Yeon-mi and her family, unleashing the most inhumane atrocities possible, whose severity increases every time one thinks of its end, while the other is that of Yeon-mi, her courage and her relentless strive to defeat and come over the horrors of humanity, her will to not only survive, but also her daring efforts in order to adapt herself into the ‘modern world’ after her escape. Quite evidently, the process was not much different from taking a new birth altogether; nevertheless, it was brought about and brought about well.
Today, this brave and fierce lady has established herself in the US and is a Human Rights Activist, speaker and author. After her escape in 2007 to China, she finally managed to reach South Korea in 2009. Trying to make the most out of her escape from North Korea, Yeon-mi studied law at Dongkkuk University and is now a voice of the voiceless who are still living in North Korea.
The book brings attention to North Korea, also known as Hermit Kingdom, a country which, despite unleashing serious atrocities onto its people, brainwashes them into believing that they live in an ultimate “paradise.” It’s a country which denies the citizens basic human freedom which includes freedom of speech, expression, religion and even freedom of thought. However, it’s not that the North Koreans are well aware about such concepts and have to endure the ferocity of their regime. Basic expression of romantic love towards another person is a far cry for people in this region; the only love they’ve been “taught” to express is the love towards their leaders.
Talking about the struggles after her escape, Yeon-mi felt extremely nervous when she came face to face with the real world. Be it China or South Korea, her journey hasn’t been easy at all. While in China, from facing the horrors of human traffickers to getting separated from her mother enduring everything alone in her early teens to her father’s death, she faced it all. On the other hand in South Korea, she had to pay the price of sailing from a country that instils its propaganda in the name of imparting education. For Yeon-mi, surviving in a country whose academic achievement is rated number one in the world by the Pearson Global Index was not easy. When she started her classes at Dongkkuk University, she thought that the university was like a huge banquet of knowledge spread out before her and she couldn’t eat fast enough.
Sitting in the garden of this same university and originally belonging to a country whose satellite images show a complete black out except a brightly lighted single dot which is Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, Yeon-mi often wondered, “how there could be so many lights in this place when, just thirty-five miles north of here, a whole country is shrouded in darkness.”
By far having been published in 20 languages, ‘In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom’, took me on a journey that quenched my thirst of knowing the mystery behind the sealed borders of North Korea and if you want to know too, ‘In Order to Live’ should be on your reading list!