Born in the seventies in North Korea, Lucia Jang grew up in a typical household -- her parents worked in the factories, and the family scraped by on government rations of rice and what little food they could grow in their small garden. Every night before bed, Jang dusted the frame around the portrait of Kim Il-sung, as her little sister looked on. Afterwards, they would both bow and say, "Thank you, father."
But for the secretive nation, it was the beginning of a chaotic period that would see the death of "the eternal leader" and the uncontested rise to power of his son, Kim Jong-il. The country would face a decade-long famine resulting in more than a million dead. In this bleak landscape, and despite an unimaginable loss, Jang dedicates herself to helping her parents and siblings survive. Undertaking more and more drastic measures, she finds herself trafficked into an unlawful marriage and imprisoned multiple times. Eventually, Jang risks everything to flee her home country forever, crossing a river with her infant nestled in a plastic bag, determined to start a new life.
Filled with details about life within an idiosyncratic and dangerous regime, this memoir reflects the hardships many North Korean women have endured -- loss of a child, starvation, imprisonment, trafficking -- but it is Lucia Jang's extraordinary will to live and to protect her family that drives her past every obstacle in a stunning demonstration of love and courage.
"The meaning of the many Korean words used can be deduced from the narrative. Jang doesn't provide an analysis of the political forces within North Korea or the pressures waged against it, but raises questions, such as why Party officials had 'round, rosy cheeks,' while the skin of ordinary workers turned black from malnutrition. Jang's story (which was featured on CBC's The Fifth Estate) as well as the UN Commission's findings cast light on a real-life dystopia -- powerful statements about the inhumanity that power can engender."
"Gripping and powerful, Lucia Jang's astonishing memoir of survival within the most oppressive regime in the world shows the strength of hope in even the darkest of places. Essential reading for anyone committed to women’s rights, and above all, human rights."
"It's overwhelmingly bleak yet utterly riveting...Through all this, Jang's survival instincts and intelligence astound...Meanwhile, Jang's shift from dutiful believer to tentative skeptic is expertly drawn."
"Somehow, Sunhwa was never broken. She continued to defy the regime in her determination to save herself and her family...[She] seems to credit the force of this image with her survival but equally powerful was her own extraordinary compassion, which pushed her through her own suffering, striving to care for those she loved."