One woman’s life in, and desperate escape from, North Korea.
North Korea is so removed from the commerce of the digital age that when a story emerges from behind the candied gloss of government-produced video clips, the world eagerly pays attention. Hence the recent spate of memoirs from those brave souls who have escaped the restrictive country. Here, with the help of award-winning journalist McClelland, Jang (the name she later chose when safely in Canada) reveals the trials of growing up in 1970s Chosun (another term for North Korea) for one born into a family out of favor with the regime. At a young age, Jang learned that her mother’s grandfather and uncle had committed the worst atrocity possible by sympathizing with Americans during the war and fleeing to the south afterward. This action banned subsequent generations from ever joining the party and relegated them to harsh living conditions. Jang repeatedly describes the widespread poverty and starvation that were constants of daily life in this caste society. Her hunger was so deep that at one point she swallowed a handful of uncooked rice she stole to supplement a diet of weeds. In fact, scarcity of food was one of the main contributing factors that impelled Jang to slip back and forth to China to trade seafood for other staples to help support her family. And yet, when Kim Il-sung died, Jang and her mother didn’t think twice about taking earnings from a day’s sale of hard-boiled eggs to purchase chrysanthemums to honor his passing. Such ironies of North Korean life blaze through this refugee’s memoir. Despite being a survivor’s tale of unimagined affliction involving human trafficking, rape, imprisonment, the loss of a child, and exile, it is riddled with regime-inspired themes of guilt and self-deprecation. The book includes a translator’s note and an afterword by Korea-Pacific Studies professor Stephan Haggard.
A courageous tale of physical and mental endurance sure to bring to further light conditions in North Korea.