”We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
I don’t even know where to start! I can’t imagine going through half the horrible things Yeonmi Park has been through and still come out on top. I can only admire her resilience, strength, and courage in persevering through her suffering and now to acknowledge her horrifying experience in public. That takes real guts and this young lady has them in spades!
The prologue began just as Yeonmi and her mother made their bids into freedom. But, on the other side of the river, what they found was not freedom… Later on, after they found freedom, they could not speak of what happened but as they slowly accustomed themselves to life outside of North Korea, Yeonmi ”realized that without the whole truth my life would have no power, no real meaning… I understand that sometimes the only way we can survive our own memories is to shape them into a story that makes sense out of events that seem inexplicable.”
She began with the backgrounds of her families who, by the time she was born, had bad songbun (something like a reputation that determined your position is society). Whilst her father was a cunning businessman and so their family situation is somewhat better, they still went through periods when they did not have food to eat. When Yeonmi was thirteen, her sister went to seek freedom and Yeonmi dragged her mother along to follow her sister.
What happened across the river, in China, was terrible and whilst it was not described in graphic details but there is enough to make me cringe and for my heart to shrink in fear, shame and sympathy –for the victims but also shame that we, as people, can behave with such pitiful acts. Even those who mean well can have other motives. Once again, Yeonmi needed to escape to finally find that elusive freedom; the freedom to live and think and be yourself.
Despite all the heartbreaking incidents, Yeonmi was determined to educate herself. She was fifteen when she arrived in South Korea but has only the schooling of early primary child. She worked hard and succeeded in entering college of her choice. However, as life took her on a ride, she came to a realisation that she wanted to fight for those left behind.
As she fought for food, for living as a human being, Yeonmi had to struggle with her mindset (from worshipping the Kims as gods to acknowledging them as humans and capable of atrocious acts). All the things we’ve taken for granted, she has had to fight for from an early age. There is a mark differences between her childhood pictures and my own kids’ photos and I don’t know whether it’s an Asian thing or whether I know in my head she hasn’t the happiest childhood but her photos do not look at all happy! As a young mother, that really touched me. She has been through the hottest fire and been forged into a beautiful warrior for those downtrodden. My sincerest gratitude to Yeomi Park for sharing her true life story and best wishes for her future.
…we all have our own deserts. They may not be the same as my desert, but we all have to cross them to find a purpose in life and be free.
Thanks to Penguin Australia for paperback copy in exchange of honest review