Growing up under the repressive regime of Kim Jong-il in North Korea, Yeonmi Park was taught never to express her opinions or ask questions. The dictator, she believed, could read her mind. Her mother gave her a warning: “Even when you think you’re alone, the birds and mice can hear you whisper.”
Now 22 and living in New York, Park has found her voice. So much so, that North Korea published an 18-minute video online, featuring Park’s relatives, in an attempt to discredit her stories of her former home.
“If a dictator hates you, you’re in good shape. You’re a good activist,” Park says.
Park grew up in a small, one-storey house in Hyesan, near the border with China, during the years of the North Korean famine which claimed more than a million lives. Her book recounts the horrifying images that came to seem normal to her as a child. Bodies in rubbish heaps, frozen babies abandoned in allies, desperate people crying out for help on the streets and long queues for fresh water on freezing days.
“Maybe deep, deep inside me I knew something was wrong. But we North Koreans can be experts at lying, even to ourselves,” Park writes.
On a dark and cold night in early 2007, Park, then 13, and her mother made the dangerous journey across the border to China guided by human smugglers. Nearly two years later, Park and her mother escaped and crossed the Gobi Desert to Mongolia and then flew to South Korea.
It was Park’s emotional speech about her experiences delivered at the One Young World summit in 2014 that garnered global attention. The video of her speech has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube.
[Sydney Morning Herald]