Phone Call with My Daughter by Lee Ji-myeong

I was born in North Korea and lived there for 52 years. It has now been 10 years since I left, long enough, one might assume, to miss and pine for my native land. But I feel nothing to this effect at all. If there’s anything that I do feel, it is hate, anger, and despair. I once had a family there, although we were poor, and 52 years’ worth of bittersweet memories. What happened, then? Perhaps it is because now I feel that I have no identity, no soul. Maybe my identity will return when my broken country is whole again, but now that seems very far away.


One day in October last year, I spoke with my daughter in North Korea over the phone for the first time in years. Using my contacts, I was able to summon her to the Chinese border from her married home in Cholsan County in North Pyongan Province. My daughter had never responded to any of my attempts to reach her before, but for some reason that day she had decided to come. The border is a maximum security zone under constant radio surveillance, and to speak for too long would be to endanger my daughter’s life. So I said hello and was trying to control my tears, knowing we had only two minutes, when I had to catch my breath at my daughter’s next words.

     “Why won’t you leave me alone? I have no father. Don’t contact me again.”

     “Daughter,” I cried out, afraid she would hang up. Fortunately she did not.

     “Is that the first thing to say to your father after nine years? I didn’t raise you to be so cold.”

     “Sure. You always said that a person should think of their country first, and to never waver in their loyalty to the Party and the Great Leader, no matter how hard the conditions. That was what you wrote in your work, too. But then you were the one who betrayed your country first. Didn’t you even think what would happen to your family here when you left? I’m hanging up. I don’t even wa...