Yeonmi Park was just twelve years old when her mother made a decision that would forever alter the course of the lives of her family members. Yeonmi’s mother took her hand and under the guidance of human smugglers, turned her back on her native North Korea.
Life in North Korea was heartwrenching and oppressive. Yeonmi described on The Reason living in the “Hermit Country” as living in near darkness, without indoor plumbing, and without many of the technological advances that many other countries across the globe enjoyed. She could also recall a time when she, her mother, and sister were only allotted a single bag of rice to feed themselves for a month.
“Even in the cities, it was dark,” Yeonmi said. “The electricity was off more than it was on. My family washed our clothes in a river. Things like DVDs, USBs, and flash drives were forbidden. We could only have what the regime wanted to us to have. We could only know what they wanted us to know.”
Yeonmi’s parents struggled, and her father was imprisoned for smuggling metals. The loss of income left the Park family to face starvation. Yeonmi Park’s mother made the decision that she would flee to China with her daughters. Yeonmi’s sister, Eunmi, left before other plans had bee fully developed.
Yeonmi and her mother were led to China by smugglers who raped and imprisoned them, once they had entered the country. Yeonmi’s mother knew they were not in the position to bid for their freedom.
Yeonmi and her mother were freed after two years, and they journeyed to Mongolia. They were detained at the border and after begging for their lives, they were sent to South Korea.
“There’s so much food,” Yeonmi Park marvelled. “And there is democracy like I never imagined it. I had no real concept of freedom.”
Yeonmi Park penned a memoir published on goodreads.com, of her life in North Korea and her defection. She now spends much of her time working as a human rights advocate.