Before Unhasu Encores, a Memoir
by Adam Cathcart
Apart from Escape from Camp 14, this spring’s “must-read” refugee memoir is by Eunsun Kim, 26, whose book,« Corée du Nord, 9 ans pour fuir l’enfer », a collaboration with Le Figaro‘s Sebastian Faletti, just came out in French. (The title translates as “North Korea: 9 Years to Escape from Hell / 逃离地狱–朝鲜9年.”) Unlike its far more famous forerunner Aquariums of Pyongyang, no translation of this text or reviews (other than a short Yonhap piece) have made it into English:
A former North Korean woman using the pseudonym Kim Eun-sun poses for a photo during a press conference at the Korean Culture Center in Paris on March 6, 2012, about a book she, along with Sebastien Falletti, a correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro stationed in Seoul, has published in French. […] the book gives an account of Kim’s nine-year journey that brought her from the North to South Korea in 2006. Kim, currently a student at Sogang University in Seoul, is majoring in Chinese culture and psychology.
Eunsun Kim fled the DPRK’s North Hamgyong province in the 1990s with her mother and sister after her father died in the great famine. Today, Eunsun Kim still has family members living in China (including Shanghai), and her mother and sister work in a cafeteria in Seoul. As if to reveal again what an axis China has become, the author studies Chinese at university.
An interview which she gave to Paris Match magazine is mostly-translated in a somewhat plodding fashion, in English, on Soundcloud.
The human element of the individual story is matched (not to say submerged) by geopolitical currents in France, where awareness of all things North Korean seems primed for unprecedented expansion as the Unhasu Orchestra arrives in Paris. This AP piece on the orchestra’s trip is quite good. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how the bonhomie of the drive for diplomatic normalization between France and the DPRK will coexist and be informed by heightened interest in refugee issues. As if on cue, Le Point (via AFP) publishes a report asserting that 50 North Korean orphans are now in Chinese custody, presumably in Tumen. It is not so very far, after all, from Paris to North Hamgyong.