Human rights activist Park Yeonmi (also known as Yeomni Park) tells the story of her escape from North Korea in this eye-opening, courageous memoir, published back in 2015.
The story outlines her difficult childhood in North Korea, as her parents tried to fend off starvation by breaking the law (which, in other countries would just be called “owning a business.”) When she and her mother attempt to escape to China, they’re betrayed, trafficked, and endure the unthinkable. Even when they finally arrive in Seoul, South Korea, and can live as free people, Park must find freedom from the mental and emotional prisons she’s been stuck in her whole life.
It was hard to read this, which is why I think it’s important to read stories like this. It’s not just a story of her physical freedom but of the opening of her mind and heart: intellectual awakening and emotional healing. What struck me the most was the indoctrination North Koreans are subject to, the propaganda filling their lives with lies about their Great Leader and about the rest of the world. North Koreans are taught that society is the most important thing, at the loss of their individual selves. I’m not saying the other extreme–individualism–is great, either, but at one point, after Park was trying to pick up the pieces of her life in South Korea, a teacher asked her what her favorite color was. Park didn’t know how to answer, afraid she’d give the wrong one. Being able to finally think for herself without fear of being arrested–that’s one of the greatest freedoms she found in her new life.
Again, the only word I can use is eye-opening.
Photo credit: Neven Krcmarek
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