BOOK REVIEW | "IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM" BY YEONMI PARK WITH MARYANNE VOLLERS
photo & text by nacrowe
NORTH KOREA is by definition UNKNOWABLE. it is a cultural and historical black hole whereby its inhabitants live in isolation from the outside world in a warped cocoon of state-controlled DISINFORMATION, PERSECUTION and outright POLITICAL REPRESSION on a level unseen elsewhere. its true victims are its people, who for the most part are ANONYMOUS and their stories UNKNOWN.
such is what makes the recent publication of the IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM (PENGUIN, 2015) memoir by defector YEONMI PARK such a gift. her stark, harrowing account of a life of subsistence and constant struggle to survive in the HERMIT KINGDOM as well as her escape to CHINA, repatriation to SOUTH KOREA and struggle to catch up with her peers thereafter is a narrative of singular WILL, COURAGE and sheer PERSISTENCE. to say it is impressive is a massive understatement, this memoir showcases a girl in her early 20s who has experienced unimaginable SORROW and HARDSHIP.
any part of her journey i could extrapolate on, but for me the most central part of her narrative is her frank account of being TRAFFICKED (along with her mother) in CHINA after escaping from NORTH KOREA. this human slave trade by sex traffickers preys upon a political grey area whereby the CHINESE government refuses to recognize political refugees and actively sends back NORTH KOREAN defectors. traffickers know this and use such to establish a BLACK MARKET that buys and sells NORTH KOREAN women to poor CHINESE farmers. it is cruel system that preys on the most VULNERABLE and DISPOSSESSED elements in their society. just the idea that PARK gives voice to her own experience of being TRAFFICKED is an act of such BRAVERY and STRENGTH that is hard for me to comprehend, if not vocalize given how much of a TABOO such is in socially CONSERVATIVE KOREAN society.
what is also interesting is her experience in CHINA during the 2008 BEIJING SUMMER OLYMPICS when the government raided all levels of trafficking infrastructure and repatriated countless TRAFFICKED NORTH KOREAN women back home (to an unknown fate yet one can only imagine). all to save public face. one can only estimate what their policy is now during the current 2022 BEIJING WINTER OLYMPICS. nothing was learned on assumes, which is PREVENTABLE and undeniably TRAGIC.
her journey out of CHINA included a nighttime escape across a section of the GOBI DESERT during winter into neighboring MONGOLIA. this route was initiated by PROTESTENT MISSIONARIES who judged PARK and her mother for their "sinful" activities while attempting to survive on the run from crime world traffickers. this inclusion is absolutely maddening, as it showcases the hollow compassion of these international missionary groups (some of whom i personally dealt with in ALBANIA during my PEACE CORPS years) who leverage help with an unfounded sense of MORAL SUPERIORITY. maddening, just absolutely maddening. PARK and her mother should be commended for surviving in such a system. period. no qualifications. leave JESUS out of this.
basically ever step of her incredible journey, including learning to live and thrive in hyper-competitive SOUTH KOREAN society, is worthy of further examination and respect. the unimaginable COURAGE to give voice to being a victim of the international HUMAN TRAFFICKING is remarkable and should be celebrated. this is a singular book that i highly recommend to anyone interested in inspiring books that celebrate the HUMAN SPIRIT in the face of absolute MORAL DEPRAVITY and immense PERSONAL HARDSHIP. IN ORDER TO LIVE is the most AFFECTING book i have read since reviewing for this blog. could not recommend it anymore forcefully. required reading.
i read at wrote this review not knowing how YEONMI PARK has been effectively championed and co-opted by AMERICAN far-right media elements including CANDACE OWENS, BEN SHAPIRO, JORDAN PETERSON, JOE ROGAN and the like. to say that such is unfortunate is putting it mildly. it is beyond disapointing.
her current decisions dont alter the validity of her experiences outlined in the book or the incredible sacrifices her family made in seeking freedom in SOUTH KOREA. what it does showcase is at best her naivete towards conservative politics in AMERICA and at worst her true character as someone who sympathizes with those that align themselves with wannabe autocrats and regressive inhumane policies. how ironic.
i just wish to make sure my audience understands that i was not aware of such during the creation of this article.