Prefacing a review with a sentence telling you that this should be the very next book you read, pretty much gives away how this review is going to go- but to be honest the more people who read this book, the better.
Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea, and the beginning of her autobiography details life in the secretive nation. For someone who has never read anything from the point of view of someone living under the Kim regime, this was incredibly eye-opening. It is one thing to hear about conditions in North Korea from the British media; it is obviously another to hear about it from someone who has lived there.
Yeonmi speaks of her parents trading on the black market in order to keep herself and her sister, Eunmi, alive. Despite this, during most of her memories their family rarely had enough to eat, or enough money to heat their home. As the situation grew worse for Yeonmi, her sister, and her parents, they began to consider escaping North Korea. Eunmi left before the rest of her family, and Yeonmi did not see her sister again for several years. Herself and her mother believed Eunmi to have escaped to China, and so when they had the chance they followed, having to leave her father behind. Little did they know that they had been tricked by human traffickers.
The thought that a place exists where the people believe their leaders can control the weather with their mind, where there is never enough food, or electricity, where they are taught to instinctively hate “enemy” nations, where fairytales do not exist and are replaced by government political books, where it is claimed by those in power all are equal- when they are clearly not…it was sickening to read. This book is not just a story of survival, but of having to un-learn everything you thought you knew. This book is real life, and what Yeonmi describes is happening right now. The thing I was most hit by, alongside Yeonmi’s determination, intelligence, and courage, was how she captures that many people are neither good nor bad. They are a mix. And they are trying to survive. Until placed into situations such as Yeonmi has been, none of us know exactly what we are capable of.
I do not want to tell you any more of Yeonmi’s story in this review. I want you to read the book, and experience the mix of horror and admiration I experienced. It is possibly one of the best books I have read this year. When I read, I fold corners of pages and mark the paper when something really stands out to me; this book no longer closes properly for all of the folded corners and markers I have placed in there. Writing this book must have taken a phenomenal amount of courage, and I feel as many people as possible should read it. Yeonmi is a woman who has fought for her right to do things as simple as thinking her own thoughts, listen music, attend school, and speak freely in her own home. Things most of us take for granted.