I have recently read three books about North Korea. I wanted to learn a little bit more about the country as I felt quite ignorant on the subject. All I knew was that it is a communist country ruled by a dictator called Kim and that the country is closed off to the world. And OMG, I knew nothing! If you like nonfiction, I recommend picking a book up about North Korea, especially one of the autobiographies I am about to mention.
The Girl with Seven Names and In Order to Live
- The Girl with Seven Names, Escape From North Korea, by Hyeonseo Lee with David John
- In Order to Live, A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers
Looking into the subject I saw that there are a lot of autobiographies written by women who defected from North Korea. I picked up two of them:
Both of these are about young girls (underage at the time of their escape) who lived at the North Korean border to China in a town called Hyesan. They both escaped through China and ended up, after a rather harrowing journey, in South Korea.
They are both well written, structured in three parts, growing up in North Korea, escaping through China and arriving to South Korea and starting a new life there.
Without spoiling these too much, I want to say that life in North Korea is brutal, and these women barely survived. No one should live like that and I’m saddened by what people in North Korea go through. It seems like no matter what they do the regime is out to get them, and all it takes is a tiny slip for a life to be altered and changed to inhumane circumstances or over completely.
You will find brutality, famine, violence, slave marriages, human trafficking, brainwashing, subsistence level existence, smugglers, labor camps, living under 24/7 surveillance, snitches, rape, illegal immigration, and much much more in these autobiographies. They are not for the fainthearted.
The worst of all is that when Chinese authorities capture North Korean defectors who live in hiding in Chine, they deport them back to North Korea. There they face labor camps and potential death.
The third book I read was The Accusation, Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea, by Bandi. This is the only fiction book I found on a subject. It was written under a pseudonym and smuggled out from North Korea. The author still lives (or at least it did at the time of the book’s publication in South Korea) in North Korea.
There are seven stories in The Accusation, each portraying life in North Korean under the Kim regime. These stories give voice to people with a wide variety of backgrounds thereby depicting different facets of life, from the humble starving peasant to high up people living as part of the elite in the capital, Pongyang.
Even though these stories are fictional, because of the two biographies I read, I could tell that they are based on true events. The tone is sarcastic and the stories verge on the ridicule but overall the there’s the feel of the author’s deep compassion for the regime’s victims and rage at the leaders.
These are not just beautiful and haunting stories. The entire book itself, from how it was written, to how it was smuggled put and published makes The Accusation an incredible book, one which everyone must read.
Especially moving is the untitled poem Bandi included with the manuscript in which he urges everyone to read these stories.
‘Fifty years in this northern land
Living as a machine that speaks
Living as a human under a yoke
With a pure indignation
Written not with pen and ink
But with bones drenched with blood and tears
Is this writing of mine
Though they be dry as a desert
And rough as a grassland
Shabby as an invalid
And primitive as stone tools
I beg you to read my words.’
Check Out My YouTube Video on the Tree Books About North Korea
I made a video for YouTube about these books, watch it here if you like!Follow me: