“Uri Abogi, our father, we have nothing to envy in the world.
Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ party.
We are all brother and sisters.
Even if a sea of fire comes towards us,
sweet children do not need to be afraid.
Our father is here.
We have nothing to envy.”
It is the first book I read about North Korea. It is a fiction-styled narrated book, based on several years spent by Barbara meeting asylums who managed to escape from North Korea on their own volition. They originally lived in the second-largest city of North Korea, Chongjin, with families classified from low to prestigious ranks according to the basis of North Korea. A low-ranked family could pass on their ranks to descendants for three generations. In this case, Mi-ran, whose grandfather was a prison-of-war from South Korea, became a burden for the family to receive less respect from the government, to prohibit their stay in the capital, Pyongyang, and being forced to live in reduced circumstances. Mi-ran also got relatively limits to see her first boyfriend, Jun-sang (three years of holding hands in six years of kissing), due to their differences in ranks.
The main characters had undergone unaccountable series of unfortunate events under the regime of the Kim families, including the death of Kim Il-sung, and Arduous March – one of the cruelest disaster befallen on North Korea. None was immune from the famine, including teachers, doctors, even the well-off ones.
One of the memorable characters for me was Mrs. Song, the middle-class woman, who was a devotee and an inminban (person who reports duty to the government on behalf of his/her fellow colleagues and neighbors, but most importantly, monitors them) in her fifties, whose had a rebellious daughter, Oak-hee. It is interesting to read how Mrs. Song, who wiped the portraits of the Kims in her apartment daily, ended up being a traitor to her country. Another notable one was Kim Hyuck, one of the kotjebi (wandering swallows), who once begged and stole in the market during the famine when he was a child, experienced the scariest thing that the locals dared not to talk about: being sent to one of a gulags, which only existed in few countries.
The parts which I got most engaged with are the chapters talking about how each of the interviewees came to their senses and plotted the escape plan. Some with more money and connections could get a first-class journey from China to South Korea, and the disadvantage ones could only resort to have a steerage class, from China to South Korea via Mongolia, steering with bruises and blisters. After that, they retold the journey of the way of coping with the cultural discrepancy between the two countries, and eventually, “they have arrived”.
This book gave rich description of daily lives, and tribulations of North Korea, and it definitely worked for me.
Overall rating: 8/10