On the Brouhaha Over Defectors’ Memoirs
By John Cussen
The Korea Times, March 19, 2016
“As readers of this newspaper, you know of these experts’ complaints because The Korea Times columnist Casey Lartigue, Jr. has been the memoirists’ chief defender. Meanwhile, here in Pennsylvania, I know of them because my efforts to place a combined essay review of Yeonmi Park’s “In Order to Live,” of Lucia Jang’s “Stars Between the Sun and Moon,” of Hyeonseo Lee’s “The Girl With Seven Names” and of Eunsum Kim’s “A Thousand Miles to Freedom” in scholarly journals based in North America have been frustrated by rumors that the books are at least in part fiction.
“Fortunately, as I say, the experts and editors are wrong, for all of the several reasons already advanced by Lartigue and others, as well as for another reason ― a literary reason ― that I’d like to introduce here.
“First, however, let’s recall the arguments in favor of the books that have already been offered: first, the unreasonableness of expecting those of the memoirists who are now celebrities to remain consistent in every one of their stories’ details while giving interviews. Also, says Lartigue, fears of regime reprisals against their families back in the North may at times cause the defectors to obscure and displace details of their printed stories; however, Lartigue insists, the stories remain essentially unchanged. Trauma is also a factor, say both Blaine Harden (co-author with Shin Dong-hyuk of “Escape from Camp 14”) and Maryanne Vollers (co-author with Yeonmi Park of “In Order to Live”). Consciously and unconsciously, as their traumatized psyches require, the memoirists scramble the more gruesome and/or shameful facts of their stories. That they do so is not symptomatic of dishonesty but, ironically, of the gravity of the memories they are struggling to articulate.”