Book review of the amazing book “In Order to Live” by Yeonmi Park

I have been wanting to read Yeonmi Park’s memoir, In Order to Live, for a while now. I am fascinated with North Korea partially because it is such an enigma. But it also fascinates me since our family lived in South Korea for 9 years. Before going to South Korea, I knew little to nothing of that area of the world. I wasn’t even really familiar with the food, which now is a regular staple in our meal planning. If I don’t include something Korean on a regular basis, my family will mutiny. I’m not kidding.

When we went to live in South Korea, several of the other missionaries living out there were laser focused on the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea. I heard various stories, but never got to even go to the DMZ since there was always a baby to take care of (no one under 12 years old was allowed). But since this is one of the most recent books published about North Korea, it was definitely on my “to-read” list.

Thank God for slow vacations!

I’m so thankful I was able to read the majority of it this past week while we were at the beach or at least, my family was! I spent a lot of time with our youngest baby trying to get her to sleep or nursing her, so I had much more time to read while the rest of the family was busy!

A North Korean girl’s childhood

Park starts off the book talking about her childhood. The frigid temperatures and lack of food is part of the haunting backdrop to the book. One or the other or both were always there, making life miserable. Another haunting backdrop was the Great Leader. He too was always there in one way or another, causing tremendous suffering for his people.

It’s unbelievable to me how we as humans have the capability of being so callous towards others. It really is true that “power is corrupting, and absolute power is absolutely corrupting” (Lord Acton). At least, in this case it is. Having lived in South Korea, we all knew what a choke hold the regime had on their people. But the extent is horrifying.

Family business

When she was fairly young, Park’s father actually had a great little business, albeit selling things on the black market. However, the things he sold were not illicit drugs or guns. Rather, he sold various things such as Chinese clothes and later, he smuggled in metals into the country. That’s what brought the power of the North Korean police against him. Unbelievably, for trying to sustain his family with adequate food, he was put in prison. It is mind boggling.

Alone to survive

After this, Park’s mother struggled to feed Yeonmi and her sister, Eunmi, let alone keep them warm in their small home. During the summer, they would go looking for grasshoppers and soft leaves to eat just to fill their bellies.

By the time Yeonmi was around 13 years old, the two sisters and their mother made up their mind to escape to China. Seeing the consistent lights to the north gave them the idea that at least there, they could possibly eat. Eunmi escaped first, and just a few days later, Yeonmi and her mother fled over the border. However, China did not turn out to be what they had hoped.


Yes, they found food. But they also found themselves trapped in an intricate web of human trafficking. Yeonmi’s eyes were opened to what sex was by seeing her mother be raped right in front of her. Her mother tried to protect her daughter from being raped, so she begged for her to be raped instead. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be done indefinitely.

Eventually, Yeonmi, at 13, had to concede to being one of the trafficker’s mistresses. She was forced to not only be his mistress but also traffick other women around China. Since China has such a need for brides for their men (many of the women who should have been born were killed or adopted out of the country because of their one-child policy), human trafficking is very lucrative.


After about two years, Yeonmi was able to leave her trafficker and escape to Mongolia via the Gobi Desert with her mother. It was amazing how all of the details of the trip fell into place, thanks to dedicated Christian Missionaries who were able to direct them on the correct way of escape. But overall, the trek was insanely difficult and it’s incredible they survived.

Finally, freedom in South Korea

To make a long story short, Yeonmi and her mother were able to go to South Korea, where they were given a stipend from the government to now live as South Koreans. Many North Koreans who are able to immigrate into the country struggle with figuring out how to live as free people. They have been so conditioned to have all of their choices made for them, they don’t know how to function in this new adoptive, democratic country.

Luckily, this was not the case for Yeonmi. Miraculously, Yeonmi was able to catch up on her education by reading constantly and working furiously to catch up, even in the incredibly competitive educational system of South Korea.

God is faithful

There are many other details about her story that are amazing and heart wrenching all at the same time. She stands as a woman who was able to survive and thrive against all odds. Although her interaction with some of the Christians she came across seemed to be legalistic and lacking in grace, God could still be found walking right beside her. There is truly no other way to understand how she has been able to do all that she has.

I’m so thankful for Yeonmi’s story. Whether or not it was recognized that the miraculous events in her life (and our own lives!) are all attributed to the LORD’s presence, He will eventually get the glory. He really is close to the brokenhearted and suffering (Psalm 34:18). Always.

God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good.

For a quick synopsis of the book (as well as her next book, While Time Remains – can’t wait to read that one too!!), check out Eric Metaxas’s podcast with Yeonmi Park HERE, with the Socrates in the City podcast.

©2024 Mud Hen Mama


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