Title: In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s The Girl With Seven Names: Journey To Freedom A North Korean Defector’s Story
Author: Yeonmi Park Hyeonseo Lee
Publication Date: September 2015 July 2015
Version: Audiobook Audiobook
Genre: Memoir, Biography, Nonfiction Memoir, Biography, Nonfiction
Rating: 5/5 Stars 5/5 Stars
In Order To Live: Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.
The Girl With Seven Names: As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?
Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.
I’ve recently been reading literature about North Korea and memoirs written by North Korean defectors and wanted to write a review about two of the books I’ve read. I do want to note that these two stories are very different in both the authors’ experiences and writing style, but they both have very important messages, especially for people, such as myself, who are not aware of what is actually happening in North Korea.
I also want to note that there has been some controversy surrounding Yeonmi Park’s book specifically, but I’m not going to address that here. I want to instead talk about the importance of their stories.
Both Park and Lee grew up in North Korea and for different reasons and in different ways, crossed the border into China and eventually made it to South Korea. Both stories are horrifying in what they had to endure, not only in North Korea, but in China and the prejudices they faced along the way simply for being North Korean.
I knew little about North Korea and even though information has historically been restricted in coming into and leaving the country, I didn’t realize how little I knew until I began reading about life in North Korea. I think that allowing others to hear about these authors’ difficult and very personal experiences allows us to see what it’s like to grow up in North Korea and humanizes the millions of people who live there.
Both of these memoirs discuss why people are so loyal to the Kim dynasty and how the dictatorship works, but both feel very personal because the reader is viewing this from the authors’ perspectives.
In Order To Live and The Girl With Seven Names have been two of the best books I’ve read this year and I definitely recommend them to everyone.