In Order to Live is Yeonmi Park’s memoir about her life growing up in North Korea, escaping to China, and then eventually traveling through Mongolia to South Korea where she found freedom. Her story is filled with tragedy, absolute horror, fear, and death – but also of hope, of resilience and of the will to live being able to conquer even the most challenging of conditions. The fact that an entire population is more or less being kept hostage, and this having been true for a long time, is shocking – reading this book was truly eye-opening, especially because of the very real, very current, situation of life in North Korea. I knew very little about this country or its politics, government, etc. beyond a sense of it being a state of oppression. I think I am also not alone in knowing so little about the situation in North Korea, part of what its government does is trying to suppress information leak, but more and more voices are being heard – and Yeonmi Park is one of those voices who adds knowledge, who allows us to see up front all of the badness of the world – not just in North Korea, but her life in China, human trafficking, even the struggles to adapt to modern societies and life when she had arrived into safety in South Korea.
Yeonmi Park talks about her life growing up in North Korea, about her family, and all of the things she was taught by North Korean government from birth – the almost religious way the people are being taught to think of the leaders of its country. For most of her life in North Korea and even for a while years later when she had gone through so much, she still had trouble letting go of old habits, of a worldview, of things she had been taught since she was so young. One of the things that I think is so important in her narrative, that is brought into light is the fact that when a person is taught to think a certain way, be a certain way, act, do, etc. in accordance to one certain lifeview – it’s very hard to change and it might take many years to re-write one’s mind and heart to a new way of living. I think this part of her story is also applicable to many other people’s lives, not just from North Korea but from other countries of war. The story doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”, just like Yeonmi Park’s story didn’t end when she arrived in South Korea.
I think her honesty is incredibly praiseworthy. Yeonmi Park talks about the things she had to do to survive and her guilt in leaving family and friends behind in North Korea. In her escape she knew she put others too at risk, from the people who helped her escape to the people who still lives in North Korea today. She talks about her experience in coming out with her story and how hard it was for her to make the decision to tell her story, but that she felt it was important in taking one step in showing the world the truth of North Korea, of human trafficking, of her life experiences and the truth of so many people’s lives still.
This truly is an important book and I cannot recommend it enough.
Until next time, happy reading!