Saturday, June 07, 2008

A North Korean story of starvation, torture and living in caves

“Jia - A Novel of North Korea” by Hyejin Kim, tells the story of a woman’s relationship with North Korea’s authoritarian state. Jia begins her life in a community of outcasts who are forced to work in coal mines because her father refused to toe the state line. He was taken away and charged with political treason before she was born, never to be seen again.

She has a happy childhood despite her harsh conditions, including the loss of her mother in childbirth, but when her paternal grandparents, who are raising her, hatch a plan to send her to Pyongyang to be with her mother’s parents. At the age of 7, she lands in an orphanage.

When famine descends on North Korea in the mid-1990s, Jia’s problems with the authorities deepen. Jia decides the time is right to cross the border into China. Once in China, the North Korean regime takes a more distant if still threatening role, and Jia has to survive being sold into the sex trade, being picked up by the Chinese police who want to send her back to North Korea.

Kim tells a compelling story. In the forward, the author writes that Jia’s experiences and character are based on amalgam of people she spoke with when researching her book in China. That being said, characters who lose children to starvation, undergo torture after being caught defecting and live in caves in China breaks your heart and provides what seems like an authentic account of life in North Korea.

[Excerpt of an article by Christopher Carpenter, JoonAng Daily]

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