In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom – Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

Published January 19, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister.

What did I think?:

One of the things I love best about reading nonfiction is taking the opportunity to find out more about different countries, cultures and belief systems and North Korea is one of those places that has fascinated me for a long time now. We hear so much in the media about the totalitarian regime i.e. the country being sealed off from nearby potential allies, the punishments doled out to those who try and escape, the secretive nature of how they conduct their business and the absence of freedom of thought/speech. There have been a few books published in recent years from individuals willing to speak out against the regime and I’ve been meaning to check one out so I was delighted to find In Order To Live on Audible which I managed to download and listen to in its entirety in a very short space of time.

Now I have to be honest, I really didn’t get on very well with the audio narration of this book and sadly, this did factor into my general enjoyment but I’ll go into that a bit later. I do firmly believe that if I had read this book rather than listened to it, I would have appreciated it a lot more so whilst I may not necessarily recommend the audiobook format, for Yeonmi’s harrowing story alone, I would definitely classify it as a “must read,” particularly if you’re interested in finding out more about North Korea or the refugee experience.

Yeonmi Park, author of the memoir In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom.

When I first became an avid reader, I almost always stayed in one lane genre wise and tended to only read very narrowly within a specific field – mostly thrillers and crime fiction. Nonfiction wasn’t really for me, I did give it a go at times but in hindsight, I was picking completely the wrong things and nothing seemed to grab my attention or keep me interested until the end and I often gave up, professing that I was primarily a fiction reader. I’m so happy I carried on pushing myself nonfiction wise until I realised the kind of books that I would enjoy and In Order To Live falls perfectly into a few of my specifications. I like to be educated, informed, surprised, moved and challenged with nonfiction and this book did all these things for me, to the extent where I still think about Yeonmi and parts of her life even though it’s been a good couple of months since I finished listening to her story.

I wanted to learn more about North Korea and I knew it was going to be an emotional read but I still wasn’t prepared for how some of their rules and regulations would shock and indeed, anger me. Of course, growing up in a repressive state where you’re taught how to think and feel from the moment you are born is normal and natural for Yeonmi in the beginning as it’s all she’s ever known. However, it’s only when she manages to escape and see how the rest of the world lives that she realises how dangerous and destructive such a way of thinking can be for an entire population. Imagine being at school and being taught mathematics in the terms of war. I’m paraphrasing here but children were basically told: “if you have ten Yankee bastards and six of them are shot, how many Yankee bastards are left?” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, it had a huge impact on me. I mean, if something like that becomes the norm for teaching such young children, what hope is there for their future and how they view other people, really?

A parade of North Korean soldiers.

I hope regular readers will appreciate that I’m always completely honest in my reviews and this is something I feel I have to be honest about but I feel awful for doing it. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t get on with the audio narration of this book and it was such a shame. I’d just like to mention that I love that they got a Korean girl to narrate the story, it made Yeonmi’s life much more authentic and my issue was nothing to do with her accent at all. How do I explain? I just felt that it came across like she was reading a script and at times it felt a bit mechanical and emotionless. Of course, this could be because English was her second language and I absolutely salute her for her obvious mastery of English BUT I felt that Yeonmi’s story was packed full of emotion, hardship and brutality and at times, I felt like I needed a narration where I could really feel the sentiments of the more horrific parts of the story. I really don’t mean to offend anyone, it’s just my personal opinion and it just makes a larger impact on me as a reader when I can really feel all the feelings, you know?

Aside from this minor niggle, I found myself thoroughly intrigued and touched by Yeonmi’s life. Not only did she have to grow up in such a difficult way but her childhood, innocence, dreams and hopes were ripped away from her in a way that could have been entirely preventable if she had lived in a different place. Moreover, I have to give her so much respect for speaking out against the regime and putting her own life at risk in order to try and prevent other young girls going through what she went through at such a young age. She’s a brave, inspirational young woman who has been through such trauma and suffering and emerged out the other side stronger, independent and much more resilient as a result.

I’d love to know your thoughts on In Order To Live if you’ve read it, especially if you listened to the audiobook. Did you have the same feelings as me? Please let me know in the comments below!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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10 comments on “In Order To Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey To Freedom – Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers

  • I’ve read this (not listened to it). Compulsive and shocking reading. It makes me sad to know that right now in North Korea, millions of people are suffering and only the extremely lucky ones manage to get away.

  • I’ve had this one on my list for awhile and you make me want to get to it sooner!! I’ve read a couple of North Korea refugee memoirs and although they’re always harrowing they do exactly what you described so well – help you learn about a place/system and understand something about another’s experience. I’m glad this one did that for you. What a shame the narration was a letdown. Thanks for such a heartfelt review!

  • I haven’t read this but really want to!
    I am pretty cautious with audiobooks because the right narrator really can make or break your experience with a book. For example, I wanted to listen to Pride and Prejudice recently, but my library only had it with American narrators. For other books this wouldn’t have mattered, but I feel like Austen should be read with a British accent, lol.

    • Haha Christina, I totally get where you’re coming from! I’m so glad you understand that it can really change your reading experience. My partner actually prefers a more monotone narrator but for me, I have to hear some emotion in their voice particularly when it’s a subject matter like this! And I don’t mean to be biased coz I’m British but P&P should absolutely be read with a British accent! 😉😂

  • Ohhhhh I so want to read this!! I, too, am fascinated by North Korea – I think my interest was really piqued at the Olympics, with their cheerleaders; there was something so chilling in the way they moved and sang and smiled in perfect synchronicity. It made me abundantly curious about what was behind those happy faces and bright costumes. I’ll be picking this one up for sure, thank you for the recommendation! And no need to feel bad or sad for your opinions on the audiobook – some books just aren’t narrated well, and it’s better you share your honest opinion with us all than gloss over it and have us be disappointed when we find out for ourselves. You rock! ❤️👍🏼

    • Thank you so much 😊 I really think you’ll enjoy it Sheree! It’s made me want to read so much more about the country and the people, it’s just fascinating. Thank you as well for your lovely words of support, I was really worried, I didn’t want it to come across the wrong way! 😕

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