Yeonmi Park: Out of the Inferno

Yeonmi Park‘s story begins March 1, 2007 when she crossed the ice-covered Yalu River that divides China and North Korea. Yeonmi Park’s tale, heroic and harrowing at the same time, is told in an Amazon released book, “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.” North Korea is infamous a political regime that has turned the entire country into a virtual prison. When 13 year old Yeonmi and her mother slipped across the Yalu, it was no small feat, but it was only the beginning.
Yeonmi’s father joined them. However, he died of cancer during the journey. Their path first took them deep into China. Then they had to struggle across most of the Gobi desert. They endured hunger, hardship and sexual abuse before finally boarding a plane that took them to South Korea and safety.

According to the movie’s makers and Yeonmi herself, there are some minor alterations in the story of her defection from North Korea. Chiefly, these concern two things. One is that some names were altered to protect the identities of people still trapped within North Korea. The second according to is that some incidents of rape and sexual abuse were left out at Yeonmi’s request.

Most people find these changes entirely reasonable, especially since they are openly acknowledged. But they point to an important issue. There are tens of thousands of North Korean defectors and refugees. They are trying to make their plight an issue in the court of world opinion. As Tood Krainin points out, authenticity is vital to their credibility. Indeed, the North Korean government in Pyongyang has attacked Yeonmi and the film with accusations that she is an agent of the United States government. They have also claimed that the refugees in the film are actually paid actors. None of these claims has stood up under scrutiny.