Imagine being a thirteen-year-old girl, a refugee in a strange country. Now imagine your options for survival for yourself and your family are between being sold by human traffickers or being sent back to the repressive country you grew up in. A country where the odds that you would die of starvation or disease was almost a certainty. This is the unfathomable position Yeonmi Park found herself in when she escaped from North Korea into China. Her inspiring story has just been published by Penguin Press. Her book, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom is available September 29th.
Today, Yeonmi (follow her on Twitter) lives in South Korea and is a writer, frequent lecturer, and human rights activist. Against all odds she has grown into an articulate, dignified young woman who bravely shares her story in order to help others. She has spoken at Tedx and at the One Young World summit in Dublin. She also volunteers for LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), a non-profit that helps North Korean refugees.
When Yeonmi Park was thirteen-years-old her father was arrested. This event irrevocably changed her life. Prior to her father’s arrest the family was better off than most in North Korea’s repressive regime. Her father, like most men in North Korea, worked for the government as a civil servant. Her mother was a nurse for the North Korean army. Public executions for minor infractions was commonplace. Most of the population of North Korea lived with starvation. Kim Jong Un, the thirty-two-year-old leader of North Korea, is bestowed with Godlike reverence by his people.
Yeonmi and her family became outcasts after her father’s arrest. The family starved. They became so desperate they resorted to eating fireflies and grass to stave off hunger. She and her mother believed the best option for them was to try and escape.
Having fled North Korea the family faced continual adversity in China. At the age of thirteen Yeonmi was told that if she allowed herself to be sold to a man and live as his mistress he would buy her parents and the family would be reunited. Yeonmi sacrificed herself in order to reunite her family. Eventually they were able to leave China. They traveled through the Gobi Desert, navigating north by the stars until they reached their destination.
Yeonmi Park’s book tells her story of growing up under the repressive North Korean regime, her traumatic time in China, and her eventual escape to South Korea. Her story of survival and journey to freedom is riveting. Despite traumatic experiences in her young life she is now flourishing. Her story is truly inspirational.Yeonmi’s story speaks to her resilience of spirit and will to survive.