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In Order to Live summary

Yeonmi Park

A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

4.7 (35 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

"In Order to Live" by Yeonmi Park is a memoir of the author's escape from North Korea, her harrowing journey across China and the Gobi Desert, and her ultimate freedom in South Korea. It is a powerful story of hope, perseverance, and resilience.

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    In Order to Live
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    Trapped in the grim and oppressive Hermit Kingdom

    From the moment they’re born, North Koreans are told that their country is the best in the world. Unfortunately, the reality of their lives paints a much different picture.

    For one, North Korean society is divided into three primary songbun, or castes. The lower your songbun is, the harder it is to go to a good school and land a decent job. People have to resort to illegal activity just to put food on the table, and even then, many still live in poverty and hunger. In fact, it’s all too common to see malnourished bodies on the street, feasted upon by rats.

    Yeonmi Park and her family were no strangers to this cruel reality. Being from a poor songbun, they didn’t live elite lives. Theirs were even a little harder than others because they lived in Hyesan, located near the border with China and one of the coldest parts of North Korea. The town would typically go for months without electricity and running water, making winters particularly brutal.

    Luckily for Yeonmi and her older sister, Eunmi, their father, Park Jin Sik, was an ambitious man who longed for a good future. He built a trading business from scratch, smuggling illegal products from China into the North Korean interior. He got away with it by bribing the authorities, and this little venture of his provided his family with a much better life. They could eat kimchi and rice, buy fake designer clothes, and even afford a vacation to the country’s capital, Pyongyang, a privilege that was beyond reach for many in their hometown.

    Apart from giving life to her father’s illegal trading business, Hyesan played another major role in Yeonmi’s life: it offered her a window to a world beyond North Korea’s borders. This was because Hyesan and China are only separated by the Yalu River, and every day, Yeonmi could see how different life was on the other side. In China, there was always electricity, lively festivities, and most notably of all, delicious food. These were almost unheard of in North Korea. 

    Thanks to Hyesan’s proximity to China, it was also easy to get exposed to foreign media. Yeonmi could watch Chinese TV channels and get her hands on pirated Hollywood movie tapes and South Korean soap operas, broadening her worldview even more.

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    What is In Order to Live about?

    In Order to Live (2015) follows the survival story of Yeonmi Park, a North Korean woman who escaped from her home country. In this inspiring memoir, Yeonmi goes through her horrific journey from North Korea to China and finally to South Korea.

    Who should read In Order to Live?

    • Human rights activists
    • Those curious about North Korea
    • Anyone looking for an uplifting story

    About the Author

    Yeonmi Park was born in North Korea and fled the country in 2007. She now lives in the United States, where she continues to advocate for human rights.

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