“I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.”
As a Christmas gift, I received a copy of the book In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. It’s the story of how young Yeonmi Park escaped North Korea, and the struggles that she endured to reach freedom. While her journey begins in a small village in North Korea, her story extends to the brutality of sex trafficking in China to the difficult transition to South Korea.
Trigger warnings for book: rape, sexual assault, trauma
I wasn’t able to put this book down once I started. While I was reading it on the drive down to Disney World with my friends for our spring break, I would find myself reading passages to them as I processed all she and her family endured. Yeonmi’s writing is honest and open, carrying you with her throughout her journey.
One of the most shocking details would be the harsh reminders of how all too recent Yeonmi’s story is. At one point she references the dangers of being a North Korean in China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When I read those parts of her story, my heart sank (somehow even more than it already had while reading the previous parts). I have a distinct memory of watching the Olympics that year and taking selfies, no doubt for my MySpace page. And while I did this, a girl who was my age across the world was fighting to stay alive.
The perils that people are going through in North Korea are not just horrific, but they are happening right now. One of the biggest takeaways I had from reading In Order to Live was that I’m not sure my generation fully grasps the horrors of what happens there. North Korea is often portrayed as the butt of a joke, showcased in movies such as in the movie The Interview. Entertainment and comedians treat Kim Jung-un as if he is an easy-to-laugh at ruler, while the reality is incredibly different. When I admitted to my parents that while I knew the people of North Korea were struggling, I had no idea it was this bad, they replied with “we knew.” As someone who had to learn about the Revolutionary War for two years in a row (thanks less-than-stellar public high school social studies), we never seemed to advance to what is happening in our present time.
It’s not an incredibly long book, and though it has extremely heavy topics, the story is told through the eyes of a teenage girl so the reading level is accessible for all ages. However the topics are very intense and she recants the horrors that she went through, so I do recommend caution for younger or more sensitive readers. Yeonmi’s story however is one that I believe we should all know to help build our awareness to others’ struggles in the world.
In Order to Live is a chilling recount of what one girl did to save herself and her family. It quickly became one of my favorite books and will always serve as a reminder that we must never stop fighting to make this world a better place.