A Young Woman’s Journey To Freedom

Yeonmi Park, author of In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom was recently profiled in Reason Magazine (the text can be found at https://reason.com/blog/2015/11/15/yeonmi-parks-north-korean-defector-story). Park defected from her native North Korea when she was thirteen years old and recovering from a botched operation to repair what was thought to be an intestinal injury. Barely able to walk, Park and her mother crossed a frozen river into China to escape the brutal and oppressive living conditions the family was subjected to. North Korea has a long and well-documented history of human rights abuses and Park’s story confirms what many have said before her. Her father was a civil servant working for the local office of the Worker’s Party and by local standards was well off and held a high status. But during one of the many contrived food shortages, he was caught in a smuggling operation selling metals to Chinese black marketers. Sentenced to hard labor at a prison camp, the rest of the family was pushed to the margins of the local society and endured near stravation on many days. Park, like many North Koreans, had been indoctrinated to believe that the Kim dynasty was the ultimate deity and to be revered in a God-like way. So strong was Park’s belief in Kim, she believed the ruler could actually read her thoughts. Despite her fears, Park, and her mother did set out to China with the plan to reunite with her father, locate her older sister who had unexpectedly left earlier, and then crosses the border into Mongolia where they could seek asylum and resettlement at the South Korean embassy. Immediately after entering China, Park, and her mother were betrayed by their human traffickers and sold into the sex trade. Both women were raped and repeated abused. With the help of other Koreans and Christian missionaries, the two women were eventually able to cross the Gobi Desert into Mongolia. Once they resettled in Seoul, Park quickly caught up on her educations devouring books by the dozens. She at long last forgot the notion that Kim was reading her mind and found her voice to speak out against the dictator and his ruling party. While some have expressed some concern about the veracity of Park’s accounts on NY Times of her defection and the conditions in North Korea, she has been able to garner a strong following of human rights activists and her fellow defectors.

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