While Time Remains by Yeonmi Park

One of the most important books I have ever read is Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. It graphically depicts the horrors of Communism generally and Stalinism in particular.  But reading this great historical epic from the comfort of one’s home, or in any environment of relative safety and security, one is tempted to think that it concerns evils of the past, as if it is all old fogey stuff we outgrew decades ago. But Yeonmi Park, the young author of While Time Remains, confronts us with the fact that the menace of totalitarianism, especially the leftist variety, is all around us, right here in America!

The author was born on October 4, 1993, in North Korea—a wretched dungeon for its 21 million citizens. It is a world plagued by hunger, cold, scarce electricity, plus a soul-crushing weight of political, intellectual, and spiritual oppression. When Park was five years old, famine had killed over 3 million people; but that word, famine, was banned by the government.  

Considering the contrast between such a regime and American society, one would think there is no question which of the two is preferable. And yet it is questioned, vehemently or even violently. There are scores of people in this country who hold that America’s sins are so chronic, irreparable, and intolerably miserable that nothing will suffice short of total destruction.

This is stunning to Yeonmi Park. It is not that she is blind to the moral and political evils of the United States in both its present and its past, but she sees these evils from a special perspective. All she has to do is call to mind North Korea and its Marxist relatives: the Russia of Lenin and Stalin, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia. If one is not ignorant or dishonest, the moral equivalence game does not apply: the United States is better than any of those infernos! With this truth in mind she became an American citizen in 2022. And yet:

“When I tell my American friends and colleagues that certain developments in the United States remind me of North Korea, they typically cock their heads and smirk.”

Such incredulity is the typical response of the complacent. But even if such complacency is dangerous in its own right, it is less toxic than the animosity Ms. Park has provoked by merely drawing attention to the virtues of America vs. the abominations of North Korea.

In a number of ways Yeonmi Park is comparable to Solzhenitsyn. Like him, she feels called to speak for the millions of people whose voices have been suffocated and silenced by the enemies of freedom. And like him she regards the ordinary goods of this life—nourishing food, clean water, comfortable shelter, etc.—as virtually miraculous:

 “I feel that I have an unusual capacity for gratitude now, and I owe it to the sixteen-year nightmare that was my previous life. In the most twisted way imaginable, I actually regard that time as a blessing.”