In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park

“North Koreans have two stories running in their heads at all times, like trains on parallel tracks. One is what you are taught to believe; the other is what you see with your own eyes. It wasn’t until I escaped to South Korea and read a translation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four that I found a word for this peculiar condition: doublethink. This is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time—and somehow not go crazy. This “doublethink” is how you can shout slogans denouncing capitalism in the morning, then browse through the market in the afternoon to buy smuggled South Korean cosmetics.”
― Yeonmi Park, In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom

This book was selected for the book club that I’m in and I am so grateful for that.  I have never felt more gratitude for being raised in the USA and having the freedoms I’ve grown up with and have taken for granted the past 25 years. I can choose to do and be what I want, go where I want, read and what what I want, and so many other things.  After reading this book I hope to become more intentional about my life and what I’m doing with it, especially because I can make those decisions without repercussions (for the most part).

I’d consider myself a sheltered (and ignorant) person growing up. My family was never really been big on keeping up with all the politics and crazy events going on. By choice, I’ve continued that pattern into my adulthood because listening to the news can be draining, misinforming, and pointless most of the time. So, this book was incredibly eye-opening for me. Through radio, some TV, but mostly scrolling through Facebook, I had an idea of how bad North Korea is and I know about their dictator Kim Jong-un (and how our boy Donnie T is so excited to go meet with him -insert eyeball roll-), but I never really looked more into it because it didn’t hit that close to home for me.

Simple Overview: Yeonmi and her family live in oppressive and poor conditions where they don’t have much and can hardly feed themselves all while having no freedom to change that. Her father is convicted of a crime which puts a negative outlook on their family (including extended family, and generations to follow) and makes living even worse.  Her big sister and friend (I think aged 15) decide that they are going to sneak across the Chinese boarder and have a much better life. Yeonmi (13) and her mother (41) follow after the sister the next day.

Yeonmi and her mother raped, sold, trafficked, beaten (sometimes). But both keep an amazingly positive outlook on their lives. Meanwhile they are still searching for the sister and attempt to sneak the father across the boarder so they can all be together. Through hardship and economic circumstances Yeonmi’s owner/husband (who actually shows a great amount of respect for the mom and daughter) decided to let the two go.  They eventually catch wind of a group that smuggles North Koreans into Mongolia to fly them to South Korea where there are welcomed and gain freedoms they’ve never had before.

Reaching South Korea Yeonmi is able to finally get an education and gains enough confidence to share her story and enlighten the world about how truly terrible the conditions in North Korea are. Eventually, her sister even makes it to South Korea to be reunited with the mother and her little sister.

Looking back through the quotes I saved (many of which are listed on the link below) I can see that Yeonmi is an incredible woman who stays compassionate and hopeful throughout all of her struggles. Everything she does is for her family. I am super impressed with her resilience and look forward to seeing what she does in the years to come, as she is only 24 years old.

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