November 2016 Book Club Selection

In Order to Live
Park, Yeonmi, with Maryanne Vollers: In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (2015)

Discussion: Monday, November 7, 2016, 6:30-8:00 pm. Location at the home of Anne Kimberly, 4261 SE Alder St in Portland, 503-234-4094. Feel free to bring snacks to share.

Review: © Kirkus Reviews: The latest in an increasing number of narratives of escape from North Korea. Human rights activist Park, who fled North Korea with her mother in 2007 at age 13 and eventually made it to South Korea two years later after a harrowing ordeal, recognized that in order to be “completely free,” she had to confront the truth of her past. It is an ugly, shameful story of being sold with her mother into slave marriages by Chinese brokers, and although she at first tried to hide the painful details when blending into South Korean society, she realized how her survival story could inspire others. Moreover, her sister had also escaped earlier and had vanished into China for years, prompting the author to go public with her story in the hope of finding her sister. The trauma underlying Park’s story begins in her hometown of Hyesan, North Korea, just across the Yalu River from China. There, the state-supported economy had collapsed, leaving the people to fend for themselves. The author survived the famine of the 1990s thanks to the black-market trading of her enterprising parents. In an oppressed, heavily censored society where one is not allowed to think for oneself and “even the birds and mice can hear you whisper,” the police hounded the family and eventually nabbed the father for smuggling. Rumors that North Korean women could find jobs in China lured the women to agree to be smuggled across the river, where rape and hideous exploitation awaited from the hands of a network of Chinese human traffickers. In a fluid narrative facilitated by co-author Vollers (Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw, 2006, etc.), Park offers poignant details of life in both North Korea and South Korea, where the refugees were largely regarded as losers and failures before they were even given a chance. An eloquent, wrenchingly honest work that vividly represents the plight of many North Koreans.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

October 2012 Book Club Selection

Nothing to Envy
Demick, Barbara: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2010)

Our discussion took place: October 2012

Review: © Booklist: In spite of the strict restrictions on foreign press, award-winning journalist Demick caught telling glimpses of just how surreal and mournful life is in North Korea. Her chilling impressions of a dreary, muffled, and depleted land are juxtaposed with a uniquely to-the-point history of how North Korea became an industrialized Communist nation supported by the Soviet Union and China and ruled by Kim Il Sung, then collapsed catastrophically into poverty, darkness, and starvation under the dictator’s son, Kim Jong Il. Demick’s bracing chronicle of the horrific consequences of decades of brutality provide the context for the wrenching life stories of North Korean defectors who confided in Demick. Mi-ran explains that even though her “tainted blood” (her father was a South Korean POW) kept her apart from the man she loved, she managed to become a teacher, only to watch her starving students waste away. Dr. Kim Ki-eum could do nothing to help her dying patients. Mrs. Song, a model citizen, was finally forced to face cruel facts. Strongly written and gracefully structured, Demick’s potent blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state within a saga of unfathomable suffering punctuated by faint glimmers of hope.

Where to find it:
Libraries: Clackamas Co | Ft Vancouver | Multnomah Co | Washington Co
Vendors: Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble