The course Global Literature: Modern Writings from Women of the Non-Western World was one of the most important college classes I’ve ever taken as a writer. Dr. Jo Dulan at Salem College taught this literature course. It allowed me the ability to break out of US literature and explore books on a more global scale from the vital perspective of a woman writer.
In appreciation of this experience, I have researched a few authors from various countries, provinces, regions, etc. outside of the USA that have translated works available in English; many of the writers have works available in their native tongues and other languages as well. This series is merely a tool to introduce you to a large amount of important writers.
I do not propose that the written works or the writers that I feature are the most important, the most popular, or are able to speak for an entire identity or culture. Rather, I am hoping to simply give suggestions to create interest in global literature. It is important to recognize writers — especially women, who are often underrepresented — from all parts of the world.
Keep an open mind as you read. Sometimes things are lost in translation, and sometimes a subject may take more research to understand.
This post will cover a few authors from *North Korea.
*Please note: There are very few uncensored writers from North Korea with books available in an English translation. This is due to a number of factors, including the history and the current state of affairs in North Korea. You will notice that the books I feature in this particular post are all from defectors writing about their experiences. I was unsuccessful in finding novels, plays, short stories, or poems by North Korean women writers that were available in English. If you know of a book or another written work, I encourage you to share it in the comments of this post.
Yeonmi Park is a North Korean defector and human rights activist. She escaped North Korea in 2007 and settled in South Korea in 2009.
In Order to Live is the story of Park’s struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape to South Korea through China’s underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and her emergence as a leading human rights activist — all before her twenty-first birthday.
Park was born to a family of civil servants in the North Korean city of Hyesan, along the Chinese border. She grew up in a society in which the regime controls everything you do, everything you learn, where you go, what you say, even what you think. In this warped world, famine was a way of life and minor offenses, such as watching foreign videos, could prove fatal.
Park’s family was relatively privileged until her father, a party member, was arrested for smuggling. After that, life in North Korea became a ceaseless battle against starvation. Escaping with her mother, Park began a long journey of unspeakable hardship and degradation through China and Mongolia, which finally yielded her freedom in South Korea. Today Park is an influential leader of the younger generations of Korean dissidents and an internationally recognized advocate for human rights around the world.
In the end, In Order to Live is about the resilience of the human spirit and the transcendent power of love to overcome the most ghastly horrors and the most hopeless circumstances. “I had to learn how to love others,” says Yeonmi Park. “And now I am willing to die for them.”
Eunsun Kim escaped North Korea when she was eleven because she and her mother were starving. After a dangerous journey, she eventually settled in South Korea.
Eunsun Kim was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. As a child Eunsun loved her country…despite her school field trips to public executions, daily self-criticism sessions, and the increasing gnaw of hunger as the country-wide famine escalated.
By the time she was eleven years old, Eunsun’s father and grandparents had died of starvation, and Eunsun too was in danger of starving. Finally, her mother decided to escape North Korea with Eunsun and her sister, not knowing that they were embarking on a journey that would take them nine long years to complete. Before finally reaching South Korea and freedom, Eunsun and her family would live homeless, fall into the hands of Chinese human traffickers, survive a North Korean labor camp, and cross the deserts of Mongolia on foot.
Now, in A Thousand Miles to Freedom, Eunsun is sharing her remarkable story to give voice to the tens of millions of North Koreans still suffering in silence. Told with grace and courage, her memoir is a riveting exposé of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and, ultimately, a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
Hyeonseo Lee escaped North Korea and then later helped her family escape North Korea. She also now lives in South Korea.
Try this: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
Overview of The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story from barnesandnoble.com:
An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships — and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told ‘the best on the planet’? Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities — involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable. This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo’s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life — not once, but twice — first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.