A World Tour of Books: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park (North Korea)

So I began my world tour of books in what can seem an odd choice: the closed dictatorship of North Korea. Finding an honest book from this country would be hard since all books published there must be approved by the state and most are filled with propaganda about how great the leader is and how North Korea is the best place on earth, which is very far from the truth.

That is why I have chosen a book that it not technically from NK, as it wasn’t written or published there, but instead a book written by the human rights activist and NK defector Yeonmi Park.

In her biography In Order to Live, Park recounts how it was to grow up under one of the most violent and authoritarian regimes in the world. For a short time in her life Park and her family had a decent standard of living. At least compared to most of the population of North Korea, where great poverty is the rule rather than the exception. But after her father was arrested for smuggling (something he had to do to take care of his family) and sent to an internment camp, her family faced great poverty and risked starvation. For a while the then eight year old Yeonmi and her eleven year old sister were left on their own while their mother worked to get their father out of the camp. During this time they would scavenge nearby mountains to find anything edible but still suffered from severe malnutrition.

Years later, after their family was finally back together, her sister disappeared after informing them that she would try and escape to China. Yeonmi and her mother went to try to find her, crossing the border at night with help from human traffickers. But once on the other side they were taken by the people who they thought were going to help them. The second part of the book is about their time in China, where they became victims of trafficking. What happened during that time was horrific as they both experienced frequent sexual abuse and were often seen as nothing more than merchandise. Yeonmi’s mother was at one point sold to be a man’s slave wife for a price equivalent of about 2100 US dollars.

At the same time they could not ask the Chinese authorities for help, as they were undocumented immigrants and would have been sent back to NK to face severe punishment and possibly execution.

The eventually found a way to escape to Mongolia by taking the dangerous journey through the Gobi Desert at night. They were then incarcerated and later flown to South Korea, where NK defectors are welcomed and helped to adapt to life in their new country.

Yeonmi and her mother were able to start a new life in SK and were even eventually reunited with Yeonmi’s sister. Yeonmi Park is today a human rights activist fighting to help bring awareness of the horrors the Kim dictators have brought on their own people. She is a woman of great bravery, especially since she is living under threat of retaliation from the North Korean government.

In Order to Live was a moving read about not only the oppression happening in North Korea but also about human bravery and strength in the face of what seems like impossible odds. I warmly recommend this biography of a remarkable woman.

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Revealing my secret blogging project: A Word Tour of Books

In my post about my goals for 2017 I wrote that I had a secret blogging project in the making and now the time has come to reveal it.

Last year I came across this TED-Talk about a woman who spent a year reading a book from every country. It inspired me so much I decided to do the same thing.

Although I haven’t set a deadline because I’m kind of slow reader and don’t think I could pull off reading 197 books in one year, even if I will listen to many books on audio to save time.

There is some controversy as to what exactly constitutes a country but for simplicity’s sake I will go by nations that have been internationally recognized as independent states. I have printed out a list of all these countries from this website and will check them off as I go along. Depending on what happens in the world in the coming years I might have to update that list.

The books I will read will be both fiction and non-fiction and I will try to focus on books that have a strong connection to that country’s culture.

The first post of this Word Tour of Book series will be published either later today or tomorrow. So stay tuned and don’t hesitate to subscribe!

And of course I will still blog about other things like politics, writing and my transition.

Itchiness and Apathy: 1 week post-op

Today is exactly one week since I finally had my top surgery. The pain has been okay, not nearly as much as I expected and manageable with over-the-counter painkillers. What bothers me more right now is the itchiness of the healing scars. Luckily I’m wearing this surgical binder (that I will have to wear until 6 weeks post-op) so it takes away the temptation to scratch. 

I was at the nurse’s office on Monday for a check-up and to change my bandages. She also removed those tiny cushion looking things that were stapled over my nipples. I don’t know if you’ve ever had metal staples pulled out of your nipples but if you haven’t let me tell you: it hurts like a b****. 

I still have some staples left that are holding the nipples to my chest while the scars heal and after seeing that I’m even more grateful for the surgical binder because that just freaks me out and I don’t want to have to look at it.

The worst thing this week has not been anything physical though. It’s the mental toll of having to be so inactive. Maybe it’s because of my ADD but I get really depressed when I can’t activate myself. I always need to be doing something or I fall into this state of apathy and depression that’s really hard to snap out of. Right now I feel like a zombie waiting to be brought back to life.

Although my current mood is shit I’m really glad I was finally able to have top surgery. Now I feel like my life can really begin. I just need for this healing process to be over so I can feel like a person again. 

Officially post-op!

Just writing a quick post to let you all know I finally had my top surgery this Wednesday 15th of February. The operation went well and of the little I’ve seen when the nurses changed my bandages the results look pretty good. 

It was planned that I would go home the same day but anesthesia always messes me up and I spent the rest of the day sleeping and throwing up so they kept me until today. I just came home a couple of hours ago.

This Monday I have an appointment at the nurses’ office for a checkup. Until then I’m going to take it easy and try to rest as much as I can.   

Book Recommendation: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Of the many shitty things that happened in 2016, the passing of the amazing Carrie Fisher was among those that saddened me the most. As a borderline fanatic Star Wars fan I knew her primarily as the actress who played the legendary role of the rebel princess Leia Organa. And while that is a pretty badass thing to be remembered for, there was so much more to Carrie Fisher than that.

She was also a writer, humourist and advocate for many important causes such as animal rights, LGBTQ-rights and the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS. She was outspoken about her struggle with drug addiction and mental illness and helped lift the stigma around these issues.

Far too often you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone and when she passed away I realised I had never taken the time to read anything by her. I immediately tried to order her most famous novel Postcards from the Edge but it was out of stock, probably because people rushed to get their hands on a copy when they heard she was no longer with us.

So instead I bought the audiobook of her latest book on Audible and started listening. It kind of hit me in the feels when I heard Carrie Fisher’s voice.

With the rare honesty that was hers she tells in The Princess Diarist the story of her life during the shooting of the first Star Wars movie. How she got the role, where they shot the movie, how come she got that famous hairdo and other such things a Star Wars nerd like me loves hearing about. But also about her struggle with depression, her drug use and her three month affair with co-star Harrison Ford. The later which gives a whole new perspective on their on-screen chemistry.

While I loved hearing Carrie Fisher read (which she does with great feeling), my favourite part of the book is the one that in the audio version is read by her daughter Billie Lourd: the journal entries Carrie wrote during the shooting of the film.

What I love about them is that they show what writing can mean to a person, even if it’s at the time without the intent for anyone else to ever read it. Through writing you can pour your heart out. You can without holding back or censuring yourself express what you really think and feel. It’s the greatest source of therapy I’ve come across and it’s addictive in the best, non-destructive way possible.

I was also impressed by the prose and poetry in her journal entries. They are definitely the best written part of the book and truly show what a talented writer Carrie Fisher was.

I can warmly recommend The Princess Diarist.Fisher’s wittiness will have you smiling and laughing and her frank honesty will touch you deeply. Her final book is a great read that will make you miss her even more.