A college student tells the story of how he survived an unimaginably difficult childhood and adolescence growing up in North Korea.
Until he was 5 years old, Kim lived happily with his parents and beloved older sister, Bong Sook, in Hoeryong, a city famous for “its white apricots, its beautiful women, and for having the best pottery clay in North Korea.” But when a devastating famine arrived in 1995, everything changed. Kim’s family became one of millions reduced to abject poverty. Like so many others, they were forced to beg for food from strangers or from relatives who barely had enough for themselves. His mother was the first to feel the effects of the famine, and the “dark energy” that sometimes emanated from her even during the best of times returned. Kim’s cheerful father also fell victim to despair, lingering illness, and eventually death. Desperate for money, Kim’s mother took his sister to China, where she made illegal deals and sold her into domestic slavery. Kim ended up on the street, a homeless boy fighting to survive on whatever he could beg or steal from others who were suffering almost as much as he was. Eventually, he was captured by authorities and placed in a detention center for homeless children that doubled as a forced labor camp. Constantly in search of stability and food, the now-teenage Kim left the camp and went in search of his mother and other relatives. Unable to endure his nightmarish existence, he crossed into China, where an elderly Christian woman helped him find the path that led him to a fresh start in the United States. Told with poise and dignity, Kim’s story, co-authored by Talty (Hangman, 2014, etc.), provides vivid documentation of a remarkable life. It also offers an important account of atrocities committed within North Korea that have been hidden from the West—and indeed, most of the rest of the world.
A courageous and inspiring memoir.