An Evening with Yeonmi Park: A North Korean Survivor

15 November 2015

Since I can remember, I have found myself absolutely fascinated by North Korea. In a world where we have unlimited access to information at our fingertips, it baffles me that a nation like North Korea still exists. Kept under the tight-knit reign of the most hated man in the world, Kim Jong Un, civilians are sheltered from outside influence leaving them at the mercy of their nation. 
It was once a land filled with mystery and complete secrecy, completely isolated from civilisation. But as more and more North Koreans escape the clutches of their nation, the horror that they faced during their time there, is now being shared amongst the general public. North Korea is a living breathing dystopian nightmare novel come to life, where the tightly wound government continues to spread propaganda in full force. It is a place where critical thought is shunned, and the key to survival is obedience and witful tact. After all, the best way to keep it's people loyal is through fear and lack of knowledge. So much more easier to control. 

Yeonmi Park is one of the lucky survivors, who manage to escape the depths of the country she once called home. For a 22 year old, she has been through her fair share of struggles and dark adventures during her young life. When she reached the border of China with her parents after leaving North Korea, Yeonmi found herself at the mercy of Chinese authorities - who took full advantage of their situationThe price of freedom for North Koreans often comes with a loss of national identity, leaving these escapees entirely vulnerable to the mercy outside forces. Park's freedom did not come easy by any means.

I was lucky enough to meet Yeonmi at Penguin HQ a few weeks ago. Dressed in a stunning beautifully laced black dress with killer heels and luscious locks, you would not even be able to guess the amount of things she has endured in her short life. And yet she stood there, humbly addressing a room of young millennials, reminding us how lucky we are to be born here. We often forget how lucky we are to grow up in a world, where we can speak freely in the comfort of own home, and aspire to dream our ambitions into the night. These luxurious are something that North Koreans don't have access to by any means. 
From birth, Yeonmi was made to see Kim Jong Un and his father - their great leader - as a God with 'special powers' who could read her mind. She was a child of propaganda; a product of the country's culture. Even after escaping, those ideals were hard to escape. It wasn't until she discovered literature - with the likes of George Orwell's Animal Farm - did Yeonmi truly begin to break free from years of control the regime had on her.

What most surprised me about Yeonmi was how this young girl had travelled the Gobi desert in harsh conditions for freedom, and yet she still felt like she was in the same position as any 22 year old is. Lost and confused at what to do with her life. Though we come from different worlds, our core ideals and struggles are the same. We're just trying to figure our place in the world. It makes you think, don't the rest of the North Koreans stuck in deserve the same chance? What makes them so different from us?  She is living proof that people outside of dysptoian novels do fight for a worth cause. I'm in awe of what she has currently achieved, and can not wait to see how she takes the world by storm. Her message is real and true. We need to do something about North Korea. We need to help those who can not help themselves.

Will you be reading 'In Order To Live'?

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