I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
Written by: Malala Yousafzai
Narrated by: Archie Panjabi
Malala Yousafzai may be narrowly identified as a symbol of women’s rights. That categorization is certainly earned but one is left wondering what will become of this young woman.
Malala lives the life of an old soul–advocating for equal rights at eleven years old and being nearly murdered at 15. Malala will be 20 years old this July.
As most know, Malala is shot in the head by two young Taliban who attacked her school bus in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. We know they were Taliban because they acknowledged responsibility soon after the attack. Miraculously, the bullet did not penetrate Malala’s brain but bone fragments from the shock of impact severed a facial nerve and temporarily paralyzed most of her motor functions. Malala is rushed to a hospital in Pakistan and is saved from immediate danger by a competent Pakistani neurosurgeon. The world is apprised of the attempted assassination and sends messages of support for Malala’s recovery. In “I Am Malala”, a listener finds that after-care in Pakistan nearly ends Malala’s chance for survival.
Somewhat ironically, Great Britain comes to Malala’s aid. The irony is in the long history of Great Britain’s colonization of Malala’s homeland. There is historical justification for India/Pakistani’ ambivalence toward the West. “I Am Malala” touches on that ambivalence. However, Malala recognizes how important Great Britain’s assistance was in saving her life.
Malala reminds listeners of the lost lives of her countryman from American drone strikes and the invasion of Pakistani air space; including military action to kill Osama bin Laden.
On the one hand, Malala shows embarrassment over bin Laden’s successful sanctuary in Pakistan; on the other, she implies America should have worked with the Pakistani government to capture the world’s most notorious terrorist. There is a whiff of resentment in Malala’s depiction of the West’s treatment of her country but it is ameliorated by her principled stand for education, equal opportunity, and Pakistan’ sovereignty.
“I Am Malala” shows a young girl with great resilience and ambition. One is left with the impression that Malala will return to Pakistan. She will attempt to become a leader in her home country. The message one gets from her book is that Pakistan is a great and beautiful country that can be a partner with the West as an independent and Islamic nation. Malala is a politician in waiting. One hopes for her success.
At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails
Written by: Sarah Bakewell
Narrated by: Antonia Beamish
Philosophy is dead. In “At the Existentialist Café” Sarah Bakewell expertly writes about the history of phenomenological and existentialist philosophy. She writes about the lives of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, and other 19th and 20th century philosophers.
Husserl’s life begins Bakewell’s story in the 19th century. It is Husserl who focuses on the study of consciousness in human beings. To Husserl the nature of objects is determined by the experience of things in human consciousness. Husserl extends Rene Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” to “I think; therefore, it is.”
Through a succession of followers, Husserl’s concept of reality evolves. Consciousness evolves to reveal truth in some ways and despicable lies in others. Ms. de Beauvoir reveals truths about being a woman in the world while Heidegger condones, if not endorses, Nazi atrocity. Albert Camus recognizes the meaninglessness and indifference of the universe while Jean-Paul Sartre believes in an evolution of human nature that makes communism inevitable.
To a non-philosopher, Bakewell’s book holds one’s attention because of the details revealed about philosopher’s lives during and after WWII. Edmund Husserl presumes Heidegger will become his disciple but finds that the rise of Hitler means one thing to Heidegger and another to Husserl. Hitler’s rise existentially threatens the phenomenological beliefs of Husserl and the life of his Jewish wife. Heidegger chooses to become Rektor of the University of Freiburg and joins the Nazi Party in 1933. With little help from his “friend” Heidegger, Husserl accepts a sinecure to Prague in 1934 and dies in 1938.
Simone de Beauvoir, a beautiful woman, becomes a lifelong companion of an unattractive philosopher named Jean-Paul Sartre. Their conjugal relationship eventually dissolves but a deeply held friendship and correspondence lasts for the remainder of their lives. Both fervently believe in the inevitability of communism until near the end of their lives. Though early friends of Camus, they depart from friendship as Camus declines to believe in communist collectivism.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, like Camus in the beginning, becomes close friends with Sartre and de Beauvoir but their friendship cools as Ponty gravitates toward belief in art while denigrating belief in science. Ponty views science as an attempt to explain things objectively when all who practice science think subjectively. To Ponty, science is, at best, an abstraction.
There is enough information about philosophy and the lives of these philosophers to make a listener question philosophy’s value. Philosophy, like Nietzsche’s God, seems dead. This is not Bakewell’s conclusion but “At the Existentialist Café” suggests philosophers are as capable of predicting life’s meaning as political pundits and stockbrokers are at predicting elections and stock values. The truth of life’s meaning appears to be more a matter of luck than philosophical insight. Never-the-less, “At the Existentialist Café” is a highly interesting history of some very influential philosophers.
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A young Black Man’s Education
Written by: Mychal Denzel Smith
Narrated by: Kevin R. Free
Mychal Smith’s book is difficult to listen to for a white liberal; i.e. the difficulty is more because of what Smith sees than what he does not see. The necessary truth of what Smith sees is that being black, female, homosexual, or any color but white disadvantages citizens who live, work, and love in America. Smith correctly notes that Barrack Obama did not change that truth. But, for a liberal, Smith’s criticism of Obama is heart-rending.
Smith’s expectation is superhuman. No singularly elected and/or acclaimed person will unwind history’s discrimination. Obama and King are extraordinary human beings by any standard of measurement. That Obama is black and became the first black president of the United States proves being human is the best one can be. Martin Luther King’s “arc of justice” still bends toward freedom and equal opportunity for all; despite the world’s, let alone King’s, and Obama’s failings.
The nature of humankind is an evolutionary work in progress. Sadly, evolution is a chancy proposition that moves human nature both backward and forward. Maybe, humanity will never get to a state of freedom and equal opportunity, but Obama’s “audacity of hope” is better than anger, and fear. Smith cites Malcolm X as his ideal of black resistance but fails to note that Mr. Little evolved to believe separate but equal is a fiction. Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam because of its belief in Black separatism and superiority. Malcolm X’s life experience and intelligence led him to believe all people are human beings. In being human, there is good and bad in every race, color, and creed.
None of this denies Smith’s recognition of the questionable murder of Trayvon Martin, or the Jena Six debacle in Jena, Louisiana where a white high school student is beaten by five black teenagers. Both incidents are riven with racial hatred, lack of justice, and human failing. Smith gravitates to violent lyrics to say the anger of rap artists appeals to his inner frustration.
Smith recounts the considered statements of Kanye West when President Bush fails to conscientiously respond to the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. (West suggested Bush did not care about black people.) Ironically, Kanye West appears to support President-Elect Donald Trump who was sued for discrimination under the fair housing laws of the United States.
There are many incidents that Smith recognizes as the failure of white America to treat minorities fairly. At the same time, Smith is introspective in acknowledging some of his own human failings. He writes of his fears, his desire to be a great writer, and his earlier-life failure to understand how important women’s rights are in the black community. He writes of his father’s concern over his sexuality and how gender discrimination has some of the same hatred, lack of justice, and human failing as black discrimination.
Listening to Mychal Denzel Smith is difficult because his observations explain why he, if not most, black Americans are disgusted with white America. It makes a white person feel guilty because white Americans are the majority; and as a majority, white (particularly male) America has the bulk of the country’s money, power, and prestige. Until all people are humans first, there seems little reason to believe there is much hope for the “arc of justice” to bend toward freedom and equal opportunity for all.
Hope is not enough for black American’s suffering today. That is Mychal Smith’s message–too many blacks are being murdered; too many blacks are denied equal opportunity; too many blacks are jailed, and too many black families are broken. What Smith fails to fairly acknowledge is who is at fault. All of us share the blame. Human beings must recognize the humanity of all human beings. If evolution is not the answer, then human will (in a Nietzschean sense) must come to America’s aid.
“The Wright Brothers” must have wondered—Birds fly, so why can’t I? David McCullough writes and narrates a memoir of the Wright Brothers that perfectly turns wonder into reality. Orville and Wilbur Wright are the first to design, build, and fly an airplane that demonstrates human control of flight. They were not the first humans to fly, but they were the first to fly like birds; i.e. flying with nature, and intent. Before the Wright brothers, flying is left to man’s faith in God and luck; after the Wright brothers, flying is firmly within the grasp of humanity.
Two farm boys are raised in a family of seven (a mother, father, sister, and four brothers). Neither Orville, or Wilbur are college graduates. Both are born to a mother (Susan Catherine Koerner) who graduates from Hartford College as the top mathematician in her class. This is a woman who becomes a housewife to an ordained minister. She exemplifies independence, intelligence, persistence, and selflessness. Through nature and nurture, Orville and Wilbur become the talk of Dayton, Ohio, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Paris, Washington DC, and, eventually, the wide world.
Wilbur is a student athlete and scholar in high school. He goes to Hartford College, like his mother, but (unlike his mother) never graduates. Orville is the younger of the two by 4 years. Orville never finishes high school.
McCullough describes the boys as tinkerers with ambition and a burning desire to understand how birds fly. With extraordinary observational skill, hard work, and persistence, Wilbur and Orville observe birds in flight, build and tinker with flying machines, and meticulously repeat experiments in human flight.
With income from a bicycle business, started in Dayton, Ohio, they begin designing their first glider. After completing their design, they make parts and assemble their air vehicles at their bicycle shop. They search for an area of the country that has the wind and landing characteristics they need to test their glider. They are invited to an area of North Carolina because of the wind and sand characteristics of the area. Their first flight is on October 5, 1900 near Kitty Hawk but it is flown more as a kite than airplane. It has no pilot. After the first experiment, Wilbur becomes the pilot, while helpers tether the glider from the ground.
These first flights lead the brothers back to the drawing board for control-feature re-design.
The brothers return in 1901, with a new glider. The new design, allows the wing tips of the wings to flex to allow adjustments in flight. They create a wind tunnel to help with a re-design of glider controls. They find the flexing refines control of the glider in their Dayton shop where the re-design and reassembly occur. They add a rear rudder to improve the steering capability of the flyer. At this point, McCullough explains that the brothers begin flying in earnest to improve their skill in maneuvering the glider. Orville and Wilbur realize earlier failures (by themselves and others) will be repeated by pilots without extensive experience with aircraft controls. McCullough reinforces the historic truth of the Wright brothers’ invention of the first airplane. Without the brother’s creative control features, airplanes would be too dangerous to fly.
Once the aerodynamics of flight are understood, the Wright brothers turn to the idea of a motor to complete their vision of human flight. Searching the nation for a light weight engine to power their glider, they find no engine fits the bill. By good fortune, the Wright brothers are acquainted with Charles Taylor.
They hire Taylor to run their bicycle shop while they are refining their gliders. Taylor happens to be a master mechanic. He hand-builds an engine to power the first airplane motor by boring a block of aluminum for pistons to provide 12 horsepower to the Wright’s first airplane. On December 17, 1903, the first flight of a motorized airplane (an airplane with directional controls) takes place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
McCullough notes that neither Orville or Wilbur ever marry. They are a close family, raised by a loving father who is often absent because of his Bishopric duties and a mother who surprises local residents with her ability to manage the household, repair broken tools, and raise self-reliant children. The brother’s sister, Katharine Wright is the only child to graduate from college. She becomes the boy’s surrogate mother when their birth-mother is invalided in 1886 and dies in 1889. Katherine becomes the first woman to fly as Wilbur’s passenger in Paris.
In the many flights Orville and Wilbur take, there are several crashes. The worst crash is when Orville is demonstrating their latest airplane to the Army. According to McCullough, the crash is caused by a mechanical failure that kills an Army Lieutenant as a passenger on Orville’s flight. Orville, nearly killed, is nursed back to health by Katharine.
In most of Orville’s and Wilbur’s flights, they fly separately to assure the continuation of their company should one or the other have an accident. As fate would have it, Wilbur dies from typhoid in 1912.
Orville lives until 1948. Together, these two boys create a company in 1909 that sells airplanes to the U. S. Army and a French syndicate. Orville decides to sell the company in 1915 but stays involved in aeronautics for the remainder of his life. He becomes a member of the Board of Directors for NASA.
Several lawsuits were brought to challenge patents created by the Wright brothers on their airplane designs; none of the challenges succeed. Wilbur aggressively protects the company patents.
McCullough implies “The Wright Brothers” story is proof of the truth of the American Dream. With hard work, persistence, and intelligence, success is every American’s opportunity. In history, ghosts of past and present, challenge that belief. But, for white Americans in the early twentieth century, the dream is made real by McCullough’s entertaining and informative story about the Wright family.
Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed
Written by: Ben R. Rich, Leo Janos
Narrated by: Pete Larkin
“Skunk Works” is a paean to boys with toys. Ben Rich is an engineer that worked for Kelly Johnson at Lockheed. Kelly Johnson headed Lockheed’s famous design team that created the U-2 spy plane, and the famous Black Bird in the 1960’s. Being an engineer, Rich undoubtedly had a detailed understanding of the facts, but facts are dead things without a good story. Leo Janos is a writer that turns Rich’s facts into tales of Buck Roger’s daring-do.
Lockheed became the talk of the century in the 1970’s; not for their incredible design work but for bribery. Italy, West Germany, Japan, Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia are paid $22 million dollars to buy airplanes designed by Lockheed. That American law violation leads to the resignation of the Lockheed board. Johnson and his team at the “Skunk Works” are not implicated. Johnson threatens to resign but remains to play a leading role in the design of over forty aircraft. The story of the “Skunk Works” largely ignores the scandal while recognizing the magical innovation of the storied corporation.
“Skunk Works” focuses on two great inventions, and some failures. The two great successes are the U-2 spy plane and their stealth aircraft design. Failure in the 1960’s is in Lockheed’s design and execution of drone technology and its work on a Navy stealth ship. In future generations, their “Skunk Works” research on drones and stealth work become useful innovations in many military hardware designs. But with the failure of a submarine design and the loss of three drones, one of which kills the pilot of the launching craft, Johnson’s gravitas is somewhat diminished.
To most Americans, the U-2 spy plane becomes well-known because of the Gary Powers capture in Russia. The U-2 is purchased by the American CIA, its first airplane purchase.
Because U-2 could fly at altitudes beyond the range of known radar, it is ideal for CIA Intelligence. Conventional fighter jets are unable to reach U-2 altitudes for a shoot-down and radar detection is presumed unlikely. President Eisenhower authorizes an overflight of Russia just before a summit. In 1960, Russia fires several ground-to-air missiles that hit the U-2’s tail section. Powers manages to escape the plane and is captured.
This is nearing the fourth year of U-2 flights without incident. Ben Rich suggests Lockheed expects failure for U-2 detection after two years because of technological improvements in radar detection. In fact, the U-2 is found detectable soon after its first use but time is needed to determine how the high flyer could be attacked. A decision is made by the Eisenhower administration to follow a flight path which earlier revealed important information to the CIA. Rich suggests the decision to follow the same flight path is a mistake. The Russians decide to launch several missiles based on previous radar sightings of the U-2 in that area. When Powers is shot down, he is presumed to be dead by the United States for two reasons. One, because of the high altitude of the intercept, and two because of a cyanide injection available to the pilot in the event of capture.
Powers manages to survive the ejection and chooses not to kill himself. According to Rich, a number of military personnel consider Powers a traitor for not killing himself. In any case, Powers is released two years later in a prisoner exchange. Powers is eventually recognized for his positive contribution to the United States for his missions in the U-2. Ironically, Powers leaves the Air Force and, years later, is killed in a helicopter accident as a weather reporter.
The story of the U-2 does not end with Gary Powers. Rich notes that the U-2 is used extensively for military surveillance in future years and by other countries. In spite of radar detection, the utility of the information from U-2 photographs is determined by Washington to outweigh risks that they feel can be mitigated with more caution about flight routes and use.
U-2 photographs became eminently important during the Cuban missile crises. It is an unusual airplane because of its wide wing span, less than 6’ height, extraordinary light weight, and ability to fly at 70,000 feet where the air is too thin for conventional flight. Picture details at 70,000 feet are remarkably clear as a result of Polaroid’s early technology.
Rich recounts the drive and intelligence of Kelly Johnson in selling and managing the design of a stealth bomber. This is the first plane to fly with a nearly invisible radar trail. Initially, Johnson pushes back on the idea of creating another airplane when missiles and current jet fighter technology are dominating government contracts. Johnson eventually recognizes the wisdom of his engineers and the value of having a nearly invisible plane capable of delivering both ground intelligence and lethal force. Johnson demands a plane design that can outperform comparable bombers while cloaked from radar. He sells the idea to the military.
Selling the idea is where the story begins to explain why government is an inefficient engine for production. The military agrees to support a prototype of the Black Bird, a new airplane with stealth capability, because of its potential. The contract is let with Lockheed but it requires a top-secret designation. Any person working on the project must have top-secret clearance. Finding qualified personnel to work on the Black Bird is time-consuming. Some top engineering scientists are disqualified. The few with the qualification are tasked with 70-hour work weeks because there are not enough people to do the work. Routine laborers are subject to extensive background investigation. Work is broken into small pieces with only a few knowing how the pieces fit together. A smooth production line cannot be created once a design is approved.
In addition to the labor issue, competing political interests make it difficult to get approval of superior product. Contracts for the F-111 employ thousands of workers in various states and each has its own political constituent representative. Rich notes that the Black Bird is a superior plane. By some objective measurements, he is correct. It is faster than the F-111. It can fly at higher altitudes. It can carry a bigger payload. It is nearly invisible to radar. The military wants to scrap the F-111 and increase production of the Black Bird. Even with those advantages, the Reagan administration chooses to resurrect the F-111 and decrease the number of Black Birds to be produced. Part of the reason is in the political pressure from States that produce parts for the F-111.
Of course, one has to remember this is a story written by a Lockheed engineer with a vested interest in the company for which he works. The cost of the Black Bird may be higher than the F-111. Rich is not conducting a cost-benefit analysis in his version of the story. However, unquestionably government involvement is clearly shown as an inefficient engine for either innovation or production.
“Skunk Works” is an entertaining and enlightening history of military weaponry. It also illustrates the difference between a scientific research company and an industrial production company. There has to be a decision maker in both circumstances but when one manages scientists and engineers, more autonomy is given to workers than in industrial production. Knowledge, more than rules of production, determine product. Additionally, the inefficiency of government is exposed. On the one hand, inefficiency offers more time for deliberative decision; on the other, it impedes productivity and increases cost.
Finally, the story opens the Pandora’s box of military competition among nations that leaves only hope that the destructive power of nations will not destroy life on earth.
The last chapters of Rich’s story argue that government bureaucracy gets in the way of military innovation. He argues there is too much oversight and too many regulations that increased costs and discourage innovative change. Of course, the other side of the argument is about what happens when profit becomes more important than honesty or morality. The defense industry, like all human enterprises, has its Bernie Madoffs (the stock broker maven who stole investment funds) and Angelo Mozillos (the ex-Coutrywide CEO who paid a fine for his questionable mortgage lending practices). Oversight and regulation are essential to all forms of society because of the nature of humankind.
“A Moveable Feast” is a remembrance of things past by Ernest Hemingway. It reveals an author who achieves greatness, wealth, and fame in the early twentieth century. “A Moveable Feast” is a reminiscence of Hemingway’s youth when first love blooms and life is a feast. Hemingway recalls when he felt immortal. He lives life with abandon. He lives poor while struggling as a writer in the Paris of the 1920s. In his early twenties, with a beautiful wife and young son, Hemingway is a newspaper and short story writer struggling to become a novelist.
Remembering the past, Hemingway sees his future through the eyes of artists like Picasso and Miró and literary modernists like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He relishes the art of Picasso and learns from Stein and Pound about the qualities of fine art and literature. He is acquainted with James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Hemingway listens and learns and then chooses his own way. To pare his writing, he emulates newspaper qualities of economy and precise wording. He ignores the advice of Stein by refining ugly American words, including the colloquial swearing of the great unwashed.
Joyce is struggling to have Ulysses published. Eliot is recognized as a great poet by Pound. Pound solicits donations from Hemingway and others to allow Eliot to abandon a humdrum job to exclusively write poetry. Lucky for Eliot, he is discovered by a wealthy patron that abates his need to work while writing. The penurious Hemingway uses the collected money (meant for Eliot) to help himself.
Hemingway meets F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris. He is invited on a road trip to recover Fitzgerald’s car. The car is being fixed outside of Paris. Fitzgerald misses the train they were to take to the town where the car is being fixed. Hemingway furiously looks for Fitzgerald but is unable to find him and presumes they will meet at their destination. Finally, Fitzgerald arrives and they begin their return to Paris by car. The car’s top has been damaged and removed; so there is no protection from the rain. To Hemingway, the trip is a disaster but it offers potential for a friendship with an already famous and financially successful author.
Fitzgerald is noted by Hemingway to be an amazing story-teller. He tells Hemingway about “The Great Gatsby” and how he plans to give Hemingway an early copy. On the trip back to Paris, Hemingway notes that Fitzgerald lives life with vulnerabilities that will hasten his death. Fitzgerald is mesmerized by Zelda, his wife. Hemingway greatly admires Fitzgerald’s ability but is less enamored of Zelda. Hemingway implies she is a “ball buster” who emasculates her husband by telling him he fails as a great lover because he has an inadequate penis. Hemingway tells the reader Fitzgerald asks him to assess his masculine parts. Hemingway complies but is unable to convince Fitzgerald his parts are fine. (One is reminded of some critic’s characterization of Hemingway’s misogyny and hyper-masculinity.)
Hemingway receives an early copy of “The Great Gatsby” and is astounded by Fitzgerald’s talent. The disastrous road trip is forgiven and Hemingway makes an effort to become Fitzgerald’s friend. He is largely successful until Fitzgerald asks Hemingway to be completely honest with him about Zelda’s masculinity comment. Hemingway induces Fitzgerald to accompany him to a museum to look at naked Greek statues to prove there is no difference between Fitzgerald’s and other men’s anatomies. After this excursion, Hemingway notes they become estranged, never to fully recover their friendship. Some years later, Zelda is placed in a psychiatric hospital and F. Scott Fitzgerald dies. Zelda is killed in a hospital fire several years after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s untimely death.
As this memoir of Hemingway’s life progresses, Pound is acknowledged as a good-hearted friend and patron of the arts. No mention is made of Pound’s anti-Semitism. Stein is characterized as formidable intellectually but thin-skinned and highly opinionated. Joyce and Eliot are mentioned in passing but one can hear in Hemingway’s words his underlying respect.
“A Moveable Feast” is published posthumously and one suspects Hemingway would have re-written it before being satisfied with its form. Never-the-less, Hemingway’s writing skill shines through. There seem few wasted words.
Hemingway’s poignant reminder of the mistake he makes in changing wives when his fame begins to grow seems slightly off-center. Hemingway seems to feel Hadley Richardson, his first wife, is the great love of his life because she shares his struggle to become a great writer. This is where one wonders what a re-write might have clarified. Remembrance of things past are never as good, or as bad as they seem.
Hemingway admirers will never know if “A Moveable Feast” would have been rewritten. On July 2, 1961, Hemingway retrieves his favorite double-barreled shot-gun, points it at his head, and pastes the room with blood and brain. As Bette Davis said, “Old age aint’t no place for sisies!”
A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea
Written by: Eunsun Kim with Sebastien Falletti
Narration by: Emily Woo Zeller
Because of sharply contrasting images of North Korea, several books have been written about life in a country of little light and mighty ambition. Refugees and outside analysts of North Korea consistently identify a government cult of personality that propagandizes utopia while systematically starving, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering its people. “A Thousand Miles to Freedom” is a story of human endurance; i.e. its coda is “never give up”. Its story rings hollow in some details but rings clear in its depiction of a North Korean family’s escape from a repressive and totalitarian regime.
After nine years of struggle, beginning at the age of 11, Eunsun Kim manages to escape North Korea. Accompanied by her mother and sister, Eunsun Kim crosses the river between North Korea and China only to be re-captured after her mother is sold into a “marriage” of convenience. After capture, Eunsun Kim and her mother are released, captured again, and then successfully smuggled into Mongolia by human traffickers. Nine years from their first escape, Eunsun Kim and her mother are finally liberated in Seoul, South Korea. Eunsun Kim’s sister successfully hides in China when Eunsun Kim and her mother are first captured. This older sister eventually joins Eunsun Kim and her mother in Seoul.
The elements of Eunsun Kim’s story that ring clear are the advantage taken by human traffickers of refugees in country-to-country agreements that victimize people who are trying to escape starvation, imprisonment, torture, and murder in their home countries. “A Thousand Miles to Freedom” is not the only book that identifies a China/N. Korea agreement that compels repatriation of North Korea escapees to their home countries. When refugees from North Korea cross into China, they become prey for human traffickers who enrich themselves by selling females to locals, taking bribes, or charging high prices for the opportunity to reach other countries. Human trafficking becomes a business as a result of country-to-country repatriation agreements, nation state’ neglect, and human greed.
As a consequence of human desperation, inadvertent luck, and inherent tenacity, Eunsun Kim and her family manage to reach Seoul, South Korea. The humanitarian aid provided by South Korea allows Eunsun Kim and her mother to get a new start in life. Eunsun Kim’s tenacious pursuit of education, in the face of lost high school years, pushes her to complete a college degree. In spite of many obstacles, Eunsun Kim graduates from college and plans to earn a Master’s Degree in Psychology. This remarkable young woman manages to learn Chinese and English as a child in extremity. She now lectures around the world about her experience as a North Korean refugee.
Eunsun Kim’s story is a tribute to the human drive for survival. The value of education is reinforced when seen in the light of an eleven year old who misses nine years of preparation and manages to graduate from college, co-write a book, and plan for a future. Disadvantaged and/or ill-educated human beings should not give up. Eunsun Kim sets an example for those who choose to never give up. Her story highlights the human cost of unfair treatment of refugees from countries that are imprisoning, torturing, and murdering their own citizens. Most refugees are not criminals. They are survivors.
Eunsun Kim’s story may not be perfectly accurate for reasons of conscience, but her story is consistent with other refugee stories. Eunsun Kim’s survival shows how every country has a stake in the outcome of the world’s refugees.