The Shapes of Freedom: A Call for Action

February 28, 2022

by Alisa Shilova, Alumni Scholarship Recipient and LLM student in the Department of Legal Studies

I would like to tell you about a tragic, brave and truly inspiring book In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park, revealing her true story of escaping the North Korean regime. The book is divided into three parts: North Korea, China (a transit country) and South Korea. Combined together, they describe her family’s life back in North Korea, the reasons she decided to escape her homeland, the difficulties and horrors she faced on the way, and the sacrifices she had to make. It’s very interesting how the author describes freedom and how her perception of it changes over time. Back in North Korea when she was a child, the “first small taste of freedom” she felt was thanks to a pirated copy of Titanic, where “the characters talked about love and humanity”. Did she become free right away when she successfully escaped from North Korea? No. Her trip to South Korea took around 2 years in total, but does it mean that her way to freedom was finished when she finally reached this country? I do not think so either.

In fact, it was the section describing the author’s introduction to South Korea that I personally liked the most. Indeed, she was amazed by how free and self-sufficient South Korean’s society was, writing: “After I escaped to South Korea, I was surprised to hear that the blossoms and green shoots of spring symbolize life and renewal in other parts in the world. In North Korea, spring is the season of death…Spring is when most people died of starvation”. At the same time, Yeonmi Park shares: “I never knew freedom could be such a cruel and difficult thing…Now I realized that I had to think all the time—and it was exhausting. There were times when I wondered whether, if it wasn’t for the constant hunger, I would be better off in North Korea, where all my thinking and all my choices were taken care of for me. I was tired of being so responsible”. It made me realize that the author – even after reaching South Korea – still had a long way to go to achieve her true freedom and independence, in order to settle in this new democratic society and become part of it.

I’m amazed by the journey she dared to undertake and the courage she found in herself to share her story with the world. The book reveals not only her personal story, but real problems which last for decades and require urgent changes from the world community (such as a ruthless North Korean regime, the lack of safe corridors for refugees leading from North to South Korea, or North Korean refugees ending up as victims of human trafficking and other crimes in the territory of China and other transit countries etc.).