A sobering account of survival of the fittest in North Korea by a young woman on the run for nearly a decade.
Translated originally from the French edition and reading like a slender, exciting, first-person French novel, this chronicle by Eunsun Kim (a nom de plume) re-creates in immediate-feeling detail the horrific conditions of starvation that prompted her mother to flee with the author and her sister across the Tumen River bordering China in the winter of 1998. The author, then 11 years old but appearing much younger due to her blighted growth caused by malnutrition, had been fairly oblivious to the increasingly dire conditions in North Korea as the famine gripped the country and food rations were cut back. Having lost the family’s beloved father, then the grandparents, the author’s mother nearly lost all hope, until she resolved to defect to China and become a traitor to her country—knowing little about the outside world and how hoodwinked the regimes of presidents Kim Il-sung (d. 1994) and his son Kim Jong-il kept the North Korean residents. Rejected by relatives when they showed up at an aunt’s house, the mother and two daughters lived on the streets in Rajin until the Tumen froze again and they could scurry across the river. Soon taken advantage of by a hardened procuress and forced into marriage with a Chinese peasant, the author’s mother had to bear a son in order to gain some freedom. The women dispersed into teeming Chinese cities to find jobs and gain false papers. It took years to make the necessary fortune required to pay smugglers to take them over the Mongolian border, at incredible risk and danger. Yet the welcome South Korea tendered toward the family was heartening, even if the South Koreans tended to look down on these poor refugees.
An urgent cry for compassion for the author’s fellow North Koreans, trapped and strangled of liberty and life.