Yeonmi Park escaped from North Korea before she was 21.
Her book comes out next week: In Order To Live.
'I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.' Yeonmi Park was not dreaming of freedom when she escaped from North Korea. She didn't even know what it meant to be free. All she knew was that she was running for her life, that if she and her family stayed behind they would die - from starvation, or disease, or even execution. This book is the story of Park's struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China's underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way, and from there to South Korea and at last to freedom; and finally her emergence as a leading human rights activist - all before her 21st birthday.
I was taught never to express my opinion, never to question anything. I was taught simply to follow what the government told me to do or say or think. I actually believed that our Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, could read my mind, and I would be punished for my bad thoughts. And if he didn’t hear me, spies were everywhere, listening at the windows and watching in the school yard.
We were ordered to inform on anyone who said the wrong thing. We lived in fear. In most countries, a mother encourages her children to ask about everything, but not in North Korea. As soon as I was old enough to understand, my mother warned me to be careful about what I was saying. ‘Remember, Yeonmi-ya,’ she said gently, ‘even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.’