Three other famous North Korean defectors

Ms Park Yeonmi
Mr Shin Dong Hyuk
Ms Kim Hyon Hui
Ms Kim Hyon Hui

Their harrowing and dramatic escapes from North Korea have been the subject of numerous books. Here are three famous defectors with memoirs to their names.


In 1987, acting under orders from Pyongyang, agent Kim Hyon Hui and a partner put a suitcase bomb on Seoul- bound Korean Air Flight 858 from Baghdad. Hours after they escaped during a stopover in Abu Dhabi, the plane blew up over the Andaman Sea, killing 115 people on board. The bombers were caught in Bahrain; Ms Kim's partner killed himself with cyanide but she failed and was sent to Seoul where she confessed under interrogation. She was sentenced to death but received a presidential pardon. Ms Kim's story inspired the 1990 film Mayumi, and she published an autobiography called The Tears Of My Soul in 1993. Now 53, she is married to a South Korean intelligence officer and they live in seclusion with their two children.


Mr Shin Dong Hyuk, 32, is the only known North Korean to be born in a concentration camp and to have lived to tell his story. His memoir, Escape From Camp 14, was a New York Times bestseller in 2012, moving many to tears as they read of how he was starved and tortured, and eventually climbed through a high-voltage fence to escape. Early this year, he admitted there were inaccuracies in his book, and that he did not always live in Camp 14 - he was also in a less restrictive prison, Camp 18. He apologised on Facebook and in a July 29 post wrote that he will continue to speak out, despite being labelled a fraud. "I believe I have survived for a reason and I will continue to tell the world... As difficult as it may be, I refuse to give up."


Dressed in a hanbok and dabbing away tears, Ms Park Yeonmi stood before an audience at a summit in Dublin last year and spoke about the atrocities in North Korea. The 21-year-old law student and human rights activist has since made headlines all over the world and featured in the BBC's 100 Women series. Next month, she is slated to release her book, In Order To Live, which details how she survived China's human traffickers and smugglers. Some have questioned her story, citing inconsistencies in interviews, but she claimed they were due to miscommunication and her imperfect English.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'In their own words'. Print Edition | Subscribe