Jang’s memoir shows brutality of North Korean regime

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March 8, 2015

Stars between the Sun and Moon:
One woman’s life in North Korea and escape to freedom

By Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland

Douglas & McIntyre

287 pages, $32.95

Reviewed by Julia Leggett

Stars between the Sun and Moon, Lucia Jang’s memoir (as told to the journalist Susan McClelland) is an engrossing account of Jang’s childhood and early adulthood in North Korea, before her escape to Mongolia, then South Korea and eventually Canada. In the face of hardship, hunger and the grinding drudgery of oppression, Jang, or Sunhwa as she is known, shows herself to be spirited and resilient. Surviving two imprisonments (in appalling conditions that quite frankly boggled my mind) and an escape from a human trafficker, she remains unbowed and determined to find a better life for her child.

Jang’s North Korea is portrayed as almost hermetically sealed, claustrophobic, a world without horizons, where entire families are disappeared on a whim and what you truly think can never be spoken.There’s no sense to why North Korea is the way it is, the logic of the regime is deliberately hidden from view and people’s suffering appears arbitrary and meaningless. Life is reduced to the physical needs of the body. The bonds between people are worn thin by desperation and pain. Close and loving personal relationships become almost impossible under a persecutory State.  

Jang shows how hard it is to rise above such all-encompassing cruelty, and act from a place of kindness and integrity when our own basic needs are not met and we live in constant fear. And yet Jang strives again and again to support her family, to find solidarity with fellow prisoners and to resist being broken down to her basest instincts.

While Stars between the Sun and Moon gave me a glimpse of the anguish and adversity within North Korea’s borders, I thought that insight into the conditions in North Korea was missing from this memoir. It was a story told in close-up and I wanted the camera to pull back, so I could take in the whole view in order to gain some understanding about how and why North Korea continues to function as it does. I would have liked to learn more about how Jang processed and made sense of this kind of despotism, of how as a child and young adult she reconciled the disjunct between Kim Il Sung’s representation of North Korea as the best place on Earth and the grim reality she actually faced, and of how her perceptions changed as she adjusted to life in Canada.

Though perhaps I am asking too much, perhaps this kind of oppression, by its very nature, is beyond comprehension, its madness and depravity inexplicable. Either way I was continuously awed by Jang’s grit and resourcefulness and her refusal to succumb to the helplessness and sheer injustice of being born into a totalitarian and autocratic country, where your life is never your own and where even the smallest comforts must be fought for.

Julia Leggett is a Victoria-based writer. Her debut short fiction collection, Gone South and Other Ways to Disappear, is available from Mother Tongue Publishing.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Beatrice July 18, 2016 at 12:08 pm

I might have to give these a try. I do a mix of prfldeos and pockets and the more wiggly my daughter gets the more I think I might just need to make the switch!

zurich connect kfz-haftpflichtversicherung February 2, 2017 at 9:14 am

Hanno fatto un’altra release? Lo credevo impossibile…Ho sviluppato l’anno scorso un cms in php 4, poi non mi aggiornano il php sul server senza dire nulla…Cambiate le funzioni sull’xml e mille altre cose, ho rifatto tutto, ed in tale occasione ho anche visto quanto migliore non fosse il 5, convincendomi a cambiare “linguaggio” (versione?) definitivamente.E ora se ne escono con una nuova versione?Mah, proprio non capisco.

http://www.oxsanasiberians.com/ March 22, 2017 at 2:59 am

Este padre Leo morreu do que mesmo? Pois de repente começou a definhar e em pouco tempo morreu. Do que será que foi? Aqui em Lorena falam de uma coisa que não acredito, afinal ele era padre.Quem souber me informe por favor.

baufinanzierungsrechner May 31, 2017 at 9:08 am

I like #1 the best – Adventures in Churchland.I wouldn’t necessarily know what “Churchland” was from just the title, so the subtitle needs to explain it better. And the graphics on the cover as you mentioned. But #1 is my choice.Subtitle, I like either C (in title 1) or 2B subtitle and use that for #1 subtitle.Looking forward to this book being out!

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