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review 2016-10-13 18:03
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park

I appreciate Park telling her story and including how hard it was for her to do so. It can be something that we miss sometimes when people write memoirs that not everyone has a story that they are comfortable with everyone knowing. Sometimes we have things that we'd rather keep hidden about ourselves and Park definitely relates that feeling. She includes the shame she felt at different times and her paths to overcoming it and the times when she didn't. She gives us her story so that we can understand the plight of those who share her circumstances but that often go unheard. 

I appreciate that she didn't get into the gory details. She discusses being raped and beaten (sexual violence being the most prominent trigger in this book), but she doesn't go into detail about how it happened. It's selfish of me to appreciate that but I do. This is not a comfortable book to read, but it's a necessary one and I get the impression that she didn't want to relive the details any more than I wanted to hear about them. But this didn't keep her from sharing what happened, she just laid it out there.

The other thing to appreciate about this is that when we hear the way violence happens, we sometimes miss what it is. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's possible to describe a beating or rape without using those two words and I feel like books that do that can miss something very important. They miss that these terms are used for actions that happen in a multitude of circumstances and are not designed for use for the perpetrator. Park says that she was raped and we don't miss it underneath the coercion that was used against her. The ability to name what has happened to you and not just describe the way it happened instead is powerful. It erases any idea that it could have been something else. It makes it clear to the reader that there is no question as to what happened and that the way it happened is less important than that it happened. To me, it was pretty powerful way to approach discussing that part of her story. 

I appreciate that she doesn't out others or tell their stories.

I appreciate that she admits to having mixed feelings about people in her life, even those that trafficked or helped her. 

I appreciate describing the unusual relationship she has with religion between her North Korean upbringing and the missionaries she met. 

I appreciate the in-depth description of what it was like to live in North Korea as a child and all the ways that she was taught to think and to be a loyal subject.

It's odd to say that I liked a book about such topics but Park made it easy to read and relate to. While it would be better to live in a world where these things didn't happen anymore, I appreciate that this book is out there to give an understanding of what it is like to go through all of this, to have to live with it and to try to get beyond it. It is essential for us to understand that this happens and how it happens in order to begin to work to eradicate it. Park knows this and even explains that this was a driving force behind her writing the book. So, yeah, I like the book. It's written well and it's important for us to read.

I wouldn't recommend it for high school or young adults because of the content, despite that she was in this age group during most of the book. I'd recommend it for anyone at or above college age, especially those who are working to understand the way the world around them works. In Order to Live is for feminists who wish to reach out internationally and for aspiring human rights activists. It is for missionaries and aid workers who will probably run into women and girls who have been trafficked. 

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text 2016-04-08 23:00
Femme Friday - My Next 5 TBR Memoirs
I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park
The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson
Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison

I have a soft spot for memoirs. Not just memoirs, but memoirs of regular people. I love to learn about the many lives that are out there and reality tv just doesn't do it. Memoirs are personal accounts of the things that people have been through. I've read a few already, but even those are mostly from people who are famous (or were by the time the memoir got into my hands). There is a lot more to the human experience than we see on a daily basis, so the next five memoirs that I've chosen to read (though they will be scattered among other reading in the coming months) are about people and experiences vastly different from my own. Here they are: 


  1. I Have Iraq in My Shoe: Misadventures of a Soldier of Fashion - Gretchen Berg  I have had this book on my TBR list for a long time. The title just called me in the middle of the book store. I have a bit of a weakness for stories about acclimating to new areas and cultures and this seems like a fun one. 
  2. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park  I also saw this a little while back. It popped up in my Recommendations feed on one site or another and seemed interesting. 
  3. The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson  This is another one that popped up on some feed. The reviews that I read on it were mixed but the premise is enough to put it on my list anyway. It was living and loving someone who is gender fluid that got me. 
  4. Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family - Najla Said  I stumbled upon this one while looking for a book about Arab-Americans. I was checking the Heritage/Diversity months and discovered that April is Arab-American month which led me to realize that I had yet to read about any real Arab-Americans. I say real because I LOVE Kamala Khan, but she is fictional. 
  5. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness - Kay Redfield Jamison I don't know about you, but mental illness scares me. It is often poorly self-diagnosed and I rarely know people who seek treatment. Even in that rare instance, sticking to a regiment can be arduous, proving illness can be tough, and it takes a toll on everyone, not just the ill person. This memoir explores manic depression from inside and outside the institution that treats it. 


Do you read memoirs? What are you reading next? 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-01-14 09:05
In Order to Live
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park

"The hunger had become unbearable; I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of rice."

I think any memoir that is as raw and straightforward as this one deserves the full 5 star rating. I actually felt myself starting to get a little bit teary in some parts. Even the acknowledgments section at the back of the book was so sincerely written that I was emotionally moved!


"I know that it is possible to lose part of your humanity in order to survive. But I also know that the spark of human dignity is never completely extinguished, and that given the oxygen of freedom and the power of love, it can grow again."


To be clear, this is the first story about North Korea that I have ever read. The publication of memoirs of North Korean defectors, especially women, seems to be  a new trend the last couple of years. To my knowledge, they existed before in Korean media, but none really were well-known in the English speaking world until recently. Anyway, given what I do know about the culture, everything she discusses seems very accurate; I don't have the impression that she lied or concealed anything more than identifying names/traits to protect identities of people who might be hunted down by the North Korean government.


So, yes, I have no doubt that the illegal human trafficking rings in northern China are mostly focused on turning women into forced brides for the surplus of men in rural areas; although it's not as popular a topic in Western media as Nazis and Communists, it's been in the news before. I also am sure that even the well-intentioned people who work to get refugees into South Korea are not 100% working for their best interests; Yeonmi recounts being afraid that she would be kicked out of the traveling group because the Christian missionary in charge found out that she had worked in online adult chatrooms to earn money (in a literal life or death situation, is it really right to judge someone's morals when they are in such a position of disadvantage?) and he didn't want her to leave until she had fully "repented." Hmmm....


It is both chilling and amusing how Yeonmi bluntly states that skills she learned in North Korea were helpful in situations. And it is quite shocking to realize that something we (in the West) take for granted is actually, as you read in Yeonmi's POV, something quite remarkable we are privileged to know or have. Example:


"But in a place without an Internet or an outside newspaper, it was impossible to get reliable information. If you asked too many questions, you could be reported."


Most chilling bit: when she explains how reading Orwell's 1984 crystallized in her mind exactly how corrupted the way of thinking encouraged in North Korea was.


Most touching bit: when her grandmother asks that she come to her grave someday to tell her that North and South Korea was a united country again, shortly before Yeonmi describes, from her young self's perspective, how her grandmother commits suicide to avoid being a burden on their impoverished family.


Other quotes for posterity:


-- "When you have so little, just the smallest things can make you happy - and that is one of the very few features of life in North Korea that I actually miss." I noted this because one would be hard pressed to find any outsider to think there might be actually something good about North Korea given our prejudiced and uninformed knowledge.


-- "If you grow up in the West, you may think that romance occurs naturally, but it does not. You learn how to be romantic from books and movies, or from observation." Nature vs. Nurture argument? Also, the difference between romance and sexual attraction.


-- "[My mother] carries guilt to this day that she was not better able to enjoy my childhood; she was too busy worrying about getting us enough food to eat." I think this sentiment could be applied across culture and country to any mother who has dealt with the circumstances of raising a family in hard times, especially as a single mother, whether by choice or chance.


-- "Jang Jin Sung, a famous North Korea defector and former poet laureate who worked in North Korea's propaganda bureau, calls this phenomenon 'emotional dictatorship.' In North Korea, it's not enough for the government to control where you go, what you learn, where you work, and what you say. They need to control you through your emotions, making you a slave to the state by destroying your individuality, and your ability to react to situations based on your own experience of the world." This is probably the truth in most 'free countries' fears... See the Red Scare?


-- "I think it's because people are so oppressed in North Korea, and daily life is so grim and colorless, that people are desperate for any kind of escape. When you watch a movie, your imagination can carry you away for two whole hours. You come back refreshed, your struggles temporarily forgotten." The exact reasoning behind the massive entertainment industry which feeds into inflated salaries for everyone at the top of that food chain; and many, many classic sci-fi novels.


"There were so many desperate people on the streets crying for help that you had to shut off your heart or the pain would be too much. After a while you can't care anymore. And that is what hell is like."


I personally find the way some people speak in English, when it is not their first language, to be more beautiful. There is something about the cadence and idiosyncrasies of their native language that carry over and do not inhibit their ability to speak English but rather lend a more powerful meaning to their words. <3


-- "After I escaped to South Korea, I was surprised to hear that the blossoms and green shoots of spring symbolize life and renewals in other parts of the world. In North Korea, spring is the season of death. It is the time of year when our stores of food are gone, but the farms produce nothing to eat because new crops are just being planted. Spring is when most people died of starvation. My sister and I often heard the adults who saw dead bodies on the street make clucking noises and say, "It's too bad they couldn't hold on until summer."


-- "...I learned something important from my short time as a market vendor: once you start trading for yourself, you start thinking for yourself." While I could easily see this as a point in favor of capitalistic societies versus communist or socialist ones, one could look at the hyper-capitalism of the United States and China (ha, irony...) and see that neither extreme is necessarily good...


-- "There were times when I wondered whether, if it wasn't for the constant hunger, I would be better off in North Korea, where all my thinking and all my choices were taken care of for me." I am very curious about this one. At this point in the story, I wonder if it was motivated more by a desire for what was familiar, or easier, or... what?


-- "...when you have more words to describe the world,  you increase your ability to think complex thoughts." Is there any better reason to embrace a love for reading? :)

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review 2015-10-31 20:21
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom - Yeonmi Park
bookshelves: radio-4, autumn-2015, autobiography-memoir, nonfiction, north-korea, published-2015
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from October 23 to 30, 2015




Description: Human rights advocate Oona Chaplin reads the North Koeran defector, Yeonmi Park's remarkable account of her escape from one of the world's most repressive regimes, and her struggle for survival. Aged thirteen, she and her mother crossed the North Korean border into China where the pair fell into an underworld of human traffickers. Following their harrowing experiences, the two crossed the Gobi desert into Mongolia before they finally found freedom in South Korea. In today's episode, Yeonmi Park recalls what it was like to grow up in a dictatorship.

Twenty-two year old Yeonmi Park is now based in Seoul. She is travelling the world and speaking as a speaker and human rights activist.

1/5: Recalling wjat it was like to grow up in a dictatorship.

2/5: A turning point was reached when Yeonmi's sister goes missing.

3/5: After a daring escape into China, events take a dark and disturbing turn

4/5: A new and dangerous plan to find freedom takes shape.

5/5: Yeonmi struggles to adjust to freedom, and her sister is still missing
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