On a cold night in 2007, when Yeonmi was 13, her mother paid a smug­gler to get the two of them across the North Korean border into China, where they were hop­ing to be re­united with her sis­ter.

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - MUST READ -

‘THE YOUNG NORTH Korean smug­gler who was guid­ing us across the border in­sisted we had to go that night. He had paid some guards to look the other way, but he couldn’t bribe all the sol­diers in the area, so we had to be ex­tremely cau­tious. I fol­lowed him in the dark­ness, but I was so un­steady that I had to scoot down the bank on my bot­tom, send­ing small avalanches of rocks crash­ing ahead of me. He turned and whis­pered an­grily for me to stop making so much noise.

But it was too late. We could see the sil­hou­ette of a North Korean sol­dier climb­ing up from the riverbed. If this was one of the bribed border guards, he didn’t seem to rec­og­nize us. “Go back!” the sol­dier shouted. “Get out of here!” Our guide scram­bled down to meet him and we could hear them talk­ing in hushed voices. Our guide re­turned alone. “Let’s go,” he said. “Hurry!” It was early spring, and the weather was get­ting warmer, melt­ing patches of the frozen river. The place where we crossed was steep and nar­row, pro­tected from the sun dur­ing the day so it was still solid enough to hold our weight — we hoped. Our guide made a cell phone call to some­one on the other side, the Chi­nese side, and then whis­pered, “Run!”

The guide started run­ning, but my feet would not move and I clung to my mother. I was so scared that I was com­pletely par­a­lyzed. The guide ran back for us, grabbed my hands, and dragged me across the ice. When we reached solid ground, we started run­ning and didn’t stop un­til we were out of sight of the border guards.

The river­bank was dark, but the lights of Chaing­bai, China, glowed just ahead of us. I turned to take a quick glance back at the place where I was born. The elec­tric power grid was down, as usual, and all I could see was a black, life­less hori­zon. I felt my heart pound­ing out of my chest as we ar­rived at a small shack on the edge of some at, va­cant elds.

I wasn’t dream­ing of free­dom when I es­caped from North Korea. I didn’t even know what it meant to be free. All I knew was that if my fam­ily stayed be­hind, we would prob­a­bly die — from star­va­tion, from dis­ease, from the in­hu­man con­di­tions of a prison la­bor camp. The hunger had be­come un­bear­able; I was will­ing to risk my life for the prom­ise of a bowl of rice.

But there was more to our jour­ney than our own sur­vival. My mother and I were search­ing for my older sis­ter, Eunmi, who had left for China a few days ear­lier and had not been heard from since. We hoped that she would be there wait­ing for us when we crossed the river. In­stead the only per­son to greet us was a bald, mid­dle-aged Chi­nese man, an eth­nic North Korean like many of the peo­ple liv­ing in this border area. The man said some­thing to my mother, and then led her around the side of the build­ing. From where I waited I could hear my mother plead­ing, “Aniyo! Aniyo!” “No! No!” I knew then that some­thing was ter­ri­bly wrong.We had come to a bad place, maybe even worse than the one we had left.’ Ex­tracted from In Or­der to Live by Yeonmi Park (R285, Fig Tree)

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