A Thousand Miles to Freedom is Eunsun Kim’s courageous, introspective and raw story about her escape from North Korea as a young girl and the struggles that she endured both in her home country and also on the run. Kim’s memoir provides a glimpse into life in North Korea that is rarely seen, discussed or even documented. The bravery that she has shown is admirable and her strength and perseverance make the book impossible to put down. The evolution of Eunsun’s thoughts and beliefs are poignant, emotional and astute; she shows knowledge and strength far beyond her years many times throughout her journey.

Eunsun’s story begins as a little girl alone and afraid in her apartment. Starving and cold, she is awaiting the return of her mother and her sister who had left their city in search food, promising to return. Having already lost her father and grandparents, Eunsun decided to write her last will and testament, sure that her remaining family would never return. Happily, her mother and sister returned and the small family realized that remaining in famine struck, oppressive North Korea would only mean certain death for them all. It is interesting to see in the memoir how Eunsun’s childhood memories reflect life in her homeland and how even at a young age, she quickly begins to realize that this is no way for any human to exist. Life in her hometown of Eundeok was not always perilous and the book does include plenty of happy memories Eunsun has, some even including the government and her reverence towards the leadership. These inclusions show how even at a young age, children are taught to respect and fear their government as the ultimate power in North Korea. When Eunsun’s mother makes the choice to attempt to flee, it is clear that choice may be the only one the small family has for survival.

The choice to escape leads the women to Chinese human traffickers, into a labor camp, a forced “marriage” for Eunsun’s mother and an eventual escape into the Mongolian desert. Eunsun’s complaints are minimal and she maintains her faith in a better future and keeps her strength even through cringe worthy situations. Even when everything points in the direction of failure. Her vivid memories and stories provide a brilliant commentary and give looks into situations that many people never even think about, let alone endure.

What is happening in North Korea is real and Eunsun’s bravery in sharing her tale cannot be undermined. Even with her success in escape, her new life in South Korea, the safety of her family and her college education, she never turns her back on her past or her home country. Her voice seeks to be one of exposure and also revelation in order to help get the message out about just what people endured and are still enduring in North Korea. Eunsun is wise beyond her years, strong in her convictions and has a bright future ahead, thanks to her mother who made the fateful decision to not settle for a life of cruelty, suffering and oppression.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.