In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom

I love biographies and autobiographies because they can teach me so much in a short period of time. It is incredible that we have so many life stories available to us. We even have professionals who will read us their stories for a few dollars or even for free on YouTube.

One of the most compelling stories I’ve read recently was that of Yeonmi Park. I first heard her interview with Joe Rogan and I had to read her book. You can listen to her interview with Rogan below.

Her book, In Order to Live, is about her incredible journey escaping North Korea and finding freedom. She tells how growing up she and her sister barely had anything to eat. The only people who had somewhat decent food were the inner communist party or those who worked for them. The party made things horrific for everyone else because they outlawed most commerce. Her father had a black market business to provide some money and food for the family. Life became increasingly difficult when the government began to crack down on her father’s business and imprisoned him for several years.

To survive as a child she wandered in the forest and mountains nearby her village to catch mice or roast dragonflies with a lighter to eat.

The government required all people of North Korea to save their poop to use as fertilizer. The communist government would then use the poop to fertilize the horribly managed crops. Every year, each family was supposed to provide 2000 lbs of poop for fertilizer. It was difficult to provide this much because there was so little to eat. Each family had to guard against poop thieves lest they be punished for not providing enough poop.

She tells about how as a young girl she experienced severe pains in her stomach. She was given surgery without an anesthetic to operate for appendicitis only to find out after surgery that it was not appendicitis. While in the hospital she recounts the rats running around eating at the dead bodies that were being stacked up like corpses.

At the age of 12, Park eventually decided that she would risk death to try to escape to China. She, her sister, and her mother find a human trafficker to bring them to China. After they make it to China, they discover they are being sold as sex slaves. Eventually, she escapes by making her way across a freezing desert to South Korea where she began rebuilding her life and searching for her sister.

At first, she was quiet about her escape from North Korea. South Korea is a very conservative country, and women who escaped from North Korea are looked down upon because they’re known to be sex slaves.

In the book, Park recalls her first visit to Wal-Mart after escaping North Korea. She could not imagine the abundance that she saw. While living in North Korea she dreamed about having enough bread to fill her stomach. She imagined that she would eat enough bread to fill her up. While in Wal-Mart the abundance overwhelmed her. The first thing she bought was microwavable macaroni and cheese.

Park’s story is inspiring. It’s a reminder to not take for granted the freedoms that we have and to be vigilant in securing those freedoms. I can’t recommend it enough.

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