North Korean Defector Yeonmi Park Has A Message We Should All Listen To

Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her family aged 13. Now 23, she's studying in America and has written a book about her experiences.

North Korean Defector Yeonmi Park Has A Message We Should All Listen To

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Yeonmi Park fled North Korea with her mother when she was 13 years old. She was born in Hyesan, a city close to the Chinese border. She's now 22, studying in New York and has written a book about her experiences. Her autobiography In Order To Live speaks not only of her defection and childhood plagued by famine in a country presided over by generations of Kim dictators but also of the treacherous years which followed after she managed to flee the country that was once her home. Yeonmi was trafficked in China by gangs running forced marriage and prostitution rings. It wasn’t until she and her mother managed to trek across the Gobi desert that they finally made it to freedom.

We meet at her publisher's offices on the Strand in Central London. She’s had a long flight from Australia but is excited about being in London for the first time. When I arrive she’s reading George Orwell, she tells me that his writing about the power of language resonates with her. ‘Growing up in North Korea I did not know that ‘love’ was a word’ she tells me 'I did not know that my father could tell my mother he loved her. If you do not know the word then you do not know the concept. My friends tell me to take a break from reading [this kind of thing]’ she says, her publisher jokes that they’re trying to dig out some lighter novels for her train journey later that day.

Yeonmi spoke to The Debrief about her experiences of growing up in North Korea and why it has made her so determined to campaign for freedom of speech and human rights. She hopes that her book will shine a light on North Korea and that people will learn from it about the importance of free speech, democracy and human dignity across the world.


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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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