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Saturday, April 11, 2015

A THOUSAND MILES to FREEDOM: MY ESCAPE from NORTH KOREA by Eunsun Kim with Sebastien Falleti. Translated by David Tian

        A Remarkable Tale

To be published in the United States on July 21, 2015. 
I received an "Advance Reading Copy" 

Eunsun Kim's tale of her escape from North Korea, along with her mother and her older sister is remarkably easy to read, remarkable engrossing and just a remarkable tale in general.

When Eunsun Kim was 11 years old her mother determined that they could no longer live in North Korea. Eunsun's grandparents were dead, her father was dead, almost everything in the house was sold for money to buy food but there was almost no food to be had because North Korea was in the middle of its Great Famine (1994-1998). Depending on whose statistics you use, the estimates range anywhere from 250,000 to 3,500,000 people starved to death or died from starvation-related causes. Of course, it is hard to say for sure because North Korea is such a closed off society.

Eunsun Kim and her family lived in the northernmost part of North Korea and they decided to cross the Tumen River into China and live as illegal aliens. They would have no promise of safety, no guarantee of work and risked being shot by the border guards on both sides of the border. But, at least they would have chance to eat.

She details several botched attempts at escape and I was pleased to see that at least one border guard was a decent human being. He could see they were starving and desperate and he took pity on them and let them go with a warning - twice! But, he couldn't feed them because there was no food to be had so this small family eventually makes it to China. The family tries to stay together but when Eunsun Kim's mother is sold into sexual slavery (she calls it an unofficial marriage, but the entire purpose of the marriage was to produce a son for her "husband" and no one recognized the marriage as legitimate) the family splits up. The daughters have a better time of it, but it is not easy.

As you can tell by the title, eventually Eunsun Kim makes it to freedom. Their last push to make it to South Korea is tension-filled and her story of how she adjusts to life in South Korea is interesting in and of itself. Now, she lives in South Korea and has lived and travelled all over the world studying (making up for lost years when she had to work to collect wood rather than go to school so they could get food) and promoting her book.

Ironically, A Thousand Miles to Freedom is late to be translated into English (it was published in French in 2012). I say ironically because the United States has had so much involvement with North and South Korea over the last 60+ years. This translation is very good (I teach Spanish and I know how hard it can be to make foreign text sound smooth in a different language). The text flows easily and makes it sound like Eunsun Kim is sitting with you telling her story in everyday, conversational language over a cup of tea.

Last two lines of the book: "The Kim dynasty has so successfully isolated my country that it would be easy for the rest of the world to forget about us. If my memoir can even play a small part in raising global awareness about our suffering and about the tragedies taking place at the hands of this regime, then all that I have endured will not have been in vain."

It can be purchased at Amazon here:  A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

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