As early as eight-years-old, Yeonmi Park’s life in North Korea came plagued with complications. Her father found himself arrested for smuggling metals, and sent to a prison labor camp. Yeonmi’s mother, Keum Sook Byeon, left her children to pursue her husband’s freedom. Alone and surviving off plants and insects, Yeonmi barely escaped starvation before her mother returned. However, it wasn’t until three years later that Yeonmi’s father managed to bribe himself out of prison. And at nine, a terrified Yeonmi saw the killing of her best friend’s mother. Lined up along eight others, the woman stood sentenced and executed for watching South Korean films.
It was an execution that forever stuck with Yeonmi, and made it clear that her country was ruled by a suspicious and punishing dictatorship. Nonetheless, freedom was a concept that never scrapped her thoughts, while living under a heavily regulated North Korea.
Growing up and escaping such a country is what human rights activist, Yeonmi Park, shares in her remarkable memoir, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. It’s a memoir that shapes her testimony escaping North Korea, and surviving the world thereafter.
According to Reason.com’s article on Yeonmi’s memoir, her story began on the last day of March of 2007. During the night, a then 13-year-old Yeonmi and her mother desperately crossed the ice-covered Yalu River into bordering China. However, growing up underneath a state-controlled media, both had little awareness of what waited ahead. In the years of her escape, Yeonmi told the Reason.com she faced inconceivable horrors while searching for refuge in China. It wasn’t until the help of missionaries did Yeonmi escape into the Gobi Desert. Eventually, she found herself in South Korea and received citizenship.
Yeonmi’s story of survival has taken the hearts of many readers, while placing her under scrutiny. North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, has spoken out to discredit her story with accusations of her being a U. S. agent. Yet, now free, Yeonmi continues to speak against the country’s abuse and tyranny over its people. She had been interviwed by international media like the NY Times and many more.