The Girl with Seven Names Info

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

An extraordinary insight
into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive
dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to
avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a
child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions
trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the
border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the
confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck,
she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been
brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and
starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had
been told “the best on the planet”?

Aged seventeen, she decided to
escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve
years before she was reunited with her family.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Ratings and Reviews From Market


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Reviews for The Girl with Seven Names:

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Jul 26, 2015

Thanks to everyone who voted in the 2015 #GoodreadsChoice Awards. Of course, I was hoping to win, but I'm still honored that I came in 4th place out of many good books.


Wow!!! I never thought my memoir would make it to the FINAL round of the 2015 #GoodreadsChoice Award. Only ten books are left. Thank you so much to everyone who has read my book and supported me.

https://www.goodreads.com/choiceaward...


A huge honor.
The Girl With Seven Names is nominated for a #GoodreadsChoice
Award for Best Thanks to everyone who voted in the 2015 ‪#‎GoodreadsChoice‬ Awards. Of course, I was hoping to win, but I'm still honored that I came in 4th place out of many good books.


Wow!!! I never thought my memoir would make it to the FINAL round of the 2015 ‪#‎GoodreadsChoice‬ Award. Only ten books are left. Thank you so much to everyone who has read my book and supported me.

https://www.goodreads.com/choiceaward...


A huge honor.
‪ The Girl With Seven Names‬ is nominated for a ‪#‎GoodreadsChoice‬
Award for Best Memoir & Autobiography! THANK YOU to all
incredible The Girl With Seven Names readers who made
this possible. *cries* *dances*
Thank you to everyone who has voted or is planning to vote!


https://www.goodreads.com/choiceaward...

...more
5

Jan 14, 2019



In North Korea the only laws that truly matter, and for which extreme penalties are imposed if they are broken, touch on loyalty to the Kim dynasty. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

Hyeonseo Lee grew up as a loyal and happy citizen of North Korea - the greatest country on earth.

Lee grew up believing that her leaders were gods - that they can be in two places at once, that stars appeared in the sky when they were born, that they (single-handedly) led their people to victory.

Sure, food was a

In North Korea the only laws that truly matter, and for which extreme penalties are imposed if they are broken, touch on loyalty to the Kim dynasty. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

Hyeonseo Lee grew up as a loyal and happy citizen of North Korea - the greatest country on earth.

Lee grew up believing that her leaders were gods - that they can be in two places at once, that stars appeared in the sky when they were born, that they (single-handedly) led their people to victory.

Sure, food was a bit scarce and there was always the danger of informers, but westerners were starving in the streets and US soldiers used South Korean children as target practice.

The older she grew, the more those beliefs began to crash around her. One of the tragedies of North Korea is that everyone wears a mask, which they let slip at their peril. Thanks to her mother's smuggling business, Lee was exposed to Chinese goods, fashion and Korean music.

All these things were deeply puzzling - if North Korea was the greatest, then how could these other countries produce such things. Kindness toward strangers is rare in North Korea. There is risk in helping others. The irony was that by forcing us to be good citizens, the state made accusers and informers of us all. When she turned seventeen, Lee decides that she will cross over to China - just once - to see what it was like...only for her brief trip to turn into a decade-long journey.

She could never return but with rumors circling that her family is in jeopardy, Lee knows that she will have to go back...and get everyone she can out. This is when I understood that we can do without almost anything – our home, even our country. But we will never do without other people, and we will never do without family. I am absolutely blown away - and completely disgusted - with the way North Korea is.

Reading about her struggles and what she overcame was riveting.

I just can't get over how terrible her life was and the emotional upheaval she went through to get out.

It is one thing to read the bland newspaper headlines or news hosts reading off their prompts and it is completely a different thing to read a personal struggle.

Her writing was unapologetically honest and portrayed a heartfelt depiction of her personal battles.

Lee's life was truly amazing - I cannot do it justice.

Audiobook Comments
Read by Josie Dunn - who gave it just the right tone and inflection. Beautifully read.

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Snapchat @miranda.reads

Happy Reading! ...more
5

Jul 17, 2015

Full Disclosure: I am a South Korean and I have encountered with a number of readings, TED-talks, Youtube videos on life in North Korea, testimonies of North Korean defectors on horrific lives in our neighbor country. However, I found this book intriguing, unique and inspiring.

What Hyeonseo offers in this book is quite different from other N.Korean defector's story. She's from a family with high class, had a relatively comfortable life to North Korean standard, and did not leave her country and Full Disclosure: I am a South Korean and I have encountered with a number of readings, TED-talks, Youtube videos on life in North Korea, testimonies of North Korean defectors on horrific lives in our neighbor country. However, I found this book intriguing, unique and inspiring.

What Hyeonseo offers in this book is quite different from other N.Korean defector's story. She's from a family with high class, had a relatively comfortable life to North Korean standard, and did not leave her country and family with the intention of never going back and in search for freedom. It is the realities of the ruthless, harsh regime that twists her path back to her country and she is thrown into a new universe where she had to make her own way. With more candor than emotion, she tells how she found the new world with freedom was also a world full of challenges and hardships, and how she navigated them to find her way through and found her identity as herself.

This book is also unique in a way it tells N. Koreans life in free countries can be challenging and not as rosy as many may simply imagine. How profound the propaganda is engraved in people's mind and perspectives, now the capitalistic life can be menacing, and how the sudden exposure to this unknown terrain could be as dangerous as to most defectors. All important topics and questions that deserve more attention among people in South Korea as host nations and be discussed to find better answers.

All in all, I think this book is a must read. Whether you want to 1)learn about the world's most ruthless dictatorship regime and how it systematically abuse its power for the benefits of the few and most people suffer not knowing life could be different elsewhere, 2) like to be inspired by a young woman who had the strength to navigate through series of life-changing, often life-threatening challenges, preserve the belief in herself and love for family, reunite with her family and herself in the end. Believe it or not, you will find both when you finish this book. ...more
5

Oct 22, 2016

By the time she turned 29, Hyeonseo Lee had spent a decade living on the run and in hiding. She had escaped a brothel, survived a kidnapping, run away from a loveless engagement, and changed her name four times. She was attacked on the street, robbed, conned, and arrested more than once.

She is one of the lucky ones.

Hyeonseo Lee was born in North Korea under a different name, to a family with good songbun (NK's caste system). But even being one of the lucky ones in North Korea means that Lee By the time she turned 29, Hyeonseo Lee had spent a decade living on the run and in hiding. She had escaped a brothel, survived a kidnapping, run away from a loveless engagement, and changed her name four times. She was attacked on the street, robbed, conned, and arrested more than once.

She is one of the lucky ones.

Hyeonseo Lee was born in North Korea under a different name, to a family with good songbun (NK's caste system). But even being one of the lucky ones in North Korea means that Lee witnessed her first public execution at seven years old. Like all citizens, starting in elementary school, she was forced to partake in weekly tattletale sessions, where one has to confess to a "crime" or accuse someone else of one. It could be as simple (and deadly serious) as "I don't think about the Dear Leader enough times during the day." While her family had food, in part because of her industrious and savvy mother, she witnessed others starving to death during the 1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands.

Even under these conditions, when Lee escapes, it's purely a matter of curiosity. Her family lives in a town directly across from China, along the narrowest part of the river that separates the two countries. She plans to turn around and come right back, but things don't work out that way.

But it's not freedom that necessarily waits for her beyond the border. The Chinese government is dogged about tracking down illegal North Koreans and returning them to their fate back home. In many ways, Lee's life in China is as arduous as her life in North Korea. South Korea gives citizenship for all NK asylum seekers, but getting there isn't easy. Lee finally makes it and without suffering abuse in a Laotian prison like so many others-- women, particularly-- desperately trying to get to Seoul.

Yup, Hyeonseo Lee is one of the "lucky ones." And I've never felt so damn privileged in my life.

I really enjoyed this book. At times, Lee's storytelling is a little flat, and her decision to end each chapter with a cliff-hanger (that gets resolved on the very next page) is a little odd. This is a great book for anyone looking to learn about North Korea or just read an interesting memoir. 4.5 stars. ...more
4

Dec 23, 2017

What an interesting story and its so hard to believe that in this day and age that a whole nation of 25.5 Million people could be so cut off from the rest of the world and its leader could controll and dictate everything about peoples lives from birth to death.
I had read a couple of books on North Korea over the years and came across The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story and another book which I felt were both worth reading.

This book is easy to read and Hyeonseo Lee is What an interesting story and its so hard to believe that in this day and age that a whole nation of 25.5 Million people could be so cut off from the rest of the world and its leader could controll and dictate everything about peoples lives from birth to death.
I had read a couple of books on North Korea over the years and came across The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story and another book which I felt were both worth reading.

This book is easy to read and Hyeonseo Lee is certainly a lady with a lot of courage and if you enjoy reading about different culture and traditions then this is interesting and a great insight into one young woman's struggle to gain freedom. I watched a couple of you tube clips of this lady giving talks and she certainly is an inspiring and interesting woman and her book is an excellent insight into life under one of the world's most ruthless and secretive dictatorships.

There were times in the story where I struggled with the authors choices and found myself wondering why she made some of the crazy choices she did and yet the more I though about it the more I realised she wasn't brought up as I was where making choices is something I take for granted, in her world life is dictated to you and you dont get to crave your own path in life so therefore choices and decisions must be very difficult to make when its never been part of your life.

Each chapter ends in a sort of cliff hanger which I found a little bit pointless as the book didn't need to be written in this format as the story is so compelling in itself but its only a small thing and doesnt take a way from the book.
The one thing this book really brought to light is just how confusing and challenging life in the free world can be for those who make the journey and the guilt and worry over family left behind.
An easy and insightful read and I think this would make a wonderful bookclub read for those looking for something a little different. ...more
3

Nov 21, 2015

I did enjoy this but I also feel like she made a lot of really incredibly dumb choices that really made no sense. For example she stayed with relatives in China for 2 whole years (!!!) and didn't think of maybe using that time to get a job to save money, or to learn a vocation? Then she runs away penniless on the spur of the moment and has no plan of what to do. You had 2 years to think about it and relied on the kindness of distant relatives to support you, but you didn't think ahead of what to I did enjoy this but I also feel like she made a lot of really incredibly dumb choices that really made no sense. For example she stayed with relatives in China for 2 whole years (!!!) and didn't think of maybe using that time to get a job to save money, or to learn a vocation? Then she runs away penniless on the spur of the moment and has no plan of what to do. You had 2 years to think about it and relied on the kindness of distant relatives to support you, but you didn't think ahead of what to do next??

She seemed really naive in general, especially when she constantly turned to brokers for help, even though she clearly says again and again she didn't trust them. She was incredibly lucky and fortunate to have people around her who had a lot of money to constantly bail her out and those connections clearly helped her.

Also the fact that she didn't even know at first that people were starving in the 90s in N. Korea and she was eating meat daily, makes it clear that she lived a very insulated life there, and probably had a very different experience from the average N. Korean. I'd really love to know her mother's story, because to be honest, she sounds like a much tougher cookie than her daughter, cleverly supporting her 2 children and getting them through famine as a single mother. Wow, hats off to her!

I did enjoy this book because I'm fascinated with any books from N. Korean defectors in general, but my sympathies with her were limited. I'm glad she got out, and that she was able to help her family as well, but this is probably not the experience of most N. Korean defectors. I do wish her all the best and hope more people learn about what is going on in N. Korea.
...more
4

Mar 05, 2016

If you're like me and haven't read much about past and present living conditions in Northern Korea , you'll learn a lot here.This simply written book follows the courageous journey of a 17 year old girl who will need to change her name seven times after she defects from North Korea and reinvents her life both in China and later South Korea. Written to read like a novel, it will certainly give you a greater appreciation of the freedoms we often take for granted, while not weighing you down with If you're like me and haven't read much about past and present living conditions in Northern Korea , you'll learn a lot here.This simply written book follows the courageous journey of a 17 year old girl who will need to change her name seven times after she defects from North Korea and reinvents her life both in China and later South Korea. Written to read like a novel, it will certainly give you a greater appreciation of the freedoms we often take for granted, while not weighing you down with more than the required detail about the atrocities others are facing daily. An easy read about a very important and interesting subject. Good March choice KUYH ! 4 stars ...more
4

Sep 18, 2018

I listened to this remarkable story, read by Josie Dunn and published by HarperCollins Publishers UK, with a degree of disbelief. Certain parts of the story agree with what I’d learned already about the lives of North Koreans, the general trend of their escapes, and their orientation in South Korea as refugees. The author was young, seventeen, when she decided to cross the frozen Yalu in winter and go see her relatives in Shenyang, China.

She’d had no idea where Shenyang was—that I actually I listened to this remarkable story, read by Josie Dunn and published by HarperCollins Publishers UK, with a degree of disbelief. Certain parts of the story agree with what I’d learned already about the lives of North Koreans, the general trend of their escapes, and their orientation in South Korea as refugees. The author was young, seventeen, when she decided to cross the frozen Yalu in winter and go see her relatives in Shenyang, China.

She’d had no idea where Shenyang was—that I actually could believe. And as a privileged (for North Korea) teen, she was accustomed to getting her way or being ignored. Certainly maps were not easily found, just as they weren’t in China, either, thirty years ago. The period in this book covers approximately 2000-2012, a period when Hyeonseo Lee spent ten years in China working then flew to South Korea to request asylum.

Her own path to freedom was relatively smooth; she’d learned to be wary of revealing much about herself from childhood and was not easily deceived. Being young and attractive gave her the benefit of the doubt in China, and she wasn’t able to escape every attempt to corral her into exploitative jobs. But she lived on her wits and managed, eventually, to eventually pass as Chinese-Korean. With this identity she was able to procure a passport (and a new name). She lived in China ten years.

I don’t want to spoil the adventure for those who aren’t familiar with her story, but it is a doozy. Her family in North Korea had a good songbun (status or name) which they exploited to bring goods in from outside the country. An uncle actually sold heroin. Her mother brought in all manner of household goods and occasionally even methamphetamines! Hyeonseo’s brother began doing much the same illicit and illegal trade work, bribing border guards, etc. after Hyeonseo left. Apparently her departure was officially overlooked, perhaps as the result of a bribe.

The story rings true, and she’s told it so many times by now that there are all kinds of suggestive chapter endings which propel one to turn to the next chapter. Apparently Ms. Lee met with President Trump with some other defectors in the White House in January 2018 before the president’s departure to Singapore to meet Kim Jong Un. She has given many talks around the world about her experience and that of her family, including a TED talk I have linked to on my blog.

The audio of her book is not read by the author, which is good because Ms. Lee’s heavily-accented English from 2013 is a little difficult to understand. I'm sure she is better now. The memoir is clearly and ably written, and I can see no credit for a translator. This is a defector story you probably haven’t heard, and since she has spoken around the world on this topic, you might want to see what everyone is so excited about. ...more
5

Jan 13, 2017

once again this book has made me realise how privileged and fortunate i am. it's dealt no less of a hard blow to my heart and i'm really a mess now. her autobiography was wild and moving and heartbreaking and my entire worldview has been altered in the course of a few hours.

i'll write a full review.... in a few days
5

Apr 21, 2019

A riveting tale I won’t forget. Even though she and her family live in relative comfort (by North Korean standards) owing to her father’s military career, Hyeonseo’s curiosity drives her to take the risk of crossing the river to China alone to get a taste of the outside world. Once she has left her country, however, it becomes clear that her life will be in danger if she tries to return. So, she is forced to rely on her own wits to survive the dangers and challenges that come her way in her A riveting tale I won’t forget. Even though she and her family live in relative comfort (by North Korean standards) owing to her father’s military career, Hyeonseo’s curiosity drives her to take the risk of crossing the river to China alone to get a taste of the outside world. Once she has left her country, however, it becomes clear that her life will be in danger if she tries to return. So, she is forced to rely on her own wits to survive the dangers and challenges that come her way in her years in China and beyond. ...more
5

Oct 09, 2016

This was definitely the best autobiography I've read to date. Hyeonseo is a brave exceptional woman who has been through hell and back. The loyalty and love she has for her family was so lovely to read.
I can't even form a proper review- no review will describe how much I loved reading this book!
4

Jan 20, 2017

This is the first time I read a North Korean defector's story.I had read about the oppressive regime but the book is an eye opener of all sorts.Though written like a thriller novel,the book tells a lot of suffering that the North Koreans go through in their perilous journey during their defection.The treatment of these defectors in China is a matter of concern for the international community.
The book deserves 4 stars ...1 deduction for too much propaganda material in the beginning and This is the first time I read a North Korean defector's story.I had read about the oppressive regime but the book is an eye opener of all sorts.Though written like a thriller novel,the book tells a lot of suffering that the North Koreans go through in their perilous journey during their defection.The treatment of these defectors in China is a matter of concern for the international community.
The book deserves 4 stars ...1 deduction for too much propaganda material in the beginning and sensationalising the second and third part.But it was a goodread. ...more
5

Jan 03, 2019

This is an amazing book. You may go into it knowing that it's written by a young lady who leaves North Korea in search of a better life, but in truth, it is so much more than that.

Hyeonseo successfully made it out of North Korea and lived in China for 10 years illegally. The book speaks of her life in North Korea and you may be surprised that in many ways it is worse than what we hear on the news, but I guarantee you will be surprised at her continued love for her homeland and her longing at This is an amazing book. You may go into it knowing that it's written by a young lady who leaves North Korea in search of a better life, but in truth, it is so much more than that.

Hyeonseo successfully made it out of North Korea and lived in China for 10 years illegally. The book speaks of her life in North Korea and you may be surprised that in many ways it is worse than what we hear on the news, but I guarantee you will be surprised at her continued love for her homeland and her longing at times to return. In China, she is in hiding as an illegal, but someone turns her name in. She survives the interrogation by convincing the authorities that she truly is Chinese and proves it by showing them her command of the Mandarin language and mastery of Chinese written characters. Thankfully, her father made sure she knew these things as a child. She also survives an assault that lands her in the hospital.

Also while in China she barely escapes human traffickers and manages to avoid an arranged marriage to a worthless man.

Eventually, she makes her way to South Korea where things finally become a bit easier and she begins the long process of attempting to get her parents out of North Korea.

Your heart will break more than once for this courageous young lady. The book is very well written. You will root for her, you will cry with her, you will be amazed at her tenacity. A wonderful, amazing, beautiful book. Saying any more would be spoiling it - you need to read this one yourself. It will change you. Thank you Hyeonseo Lee for writing this very important book. ...more
5

Dec 12, 2018

This book has been on my To-Read list for a long time. I was so excited when I finally got it from the library. I highly suggest this book to everyone. It is such an eye-opener and so fascinating. What North Koreans are going through to become free is so tragic.

"An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.
As a child growing up This book has been on my To-Read list for a long time. I was so excited when I finally got it from the library. I highly suggest this book to everyone. It is such an eye-opener and so fascinating. What North Koreans are going through to become free is so tragic.

"An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world’s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships – and the story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.
As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?
Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable." ...more
4

Mar 23, 2018

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape From North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee is what reading is all about for me. Learning something of the world, of the lives of others and gaining an appreciation for just how fortunate I am to have been born in this time and place with the freedoms and luxuries often taken for granted. Hyonseo Lee's memoir tells of the complete ideological indoctrination of the North Korean people. She detailed the way the brainwashing begins from the time of their birth and never lets The Girl with Seven Names: Escape From North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee is what reading is all about for me. Learning something of the world, of the lives of others and gaining an appreciation for just how fortunate I am to have been born in this time and place with the freedoms and luxuries often taken for granted. Hyonseo Lee's memoir tells of the complete ideological indoctrination of the North Korean people. She detailed the way the brainwashing begins from the time of their birth and never lets up, the violence and fear of repercussions for the people, and the importance of restricting outside information describing it this way:

"...in truth there is no dividing line between cruel leaders and oppressed citizens. The Kims rule by making everyone complicit in a brutal system, implicating all, from the highest to the lowest, blurring morals so that no one is blameless........Ordinary people are made persecutors, denouncers, thieves. They use the fear flowing from the top to win some advantage, or to survive."

At the age of 17 Hyeonseo escaped North Korea but her battle did not end there. It was not until she finally managed the defect to South Korea almost ten years later than she was able to experience anything remotely like freedom, and even then she was not willing to relax until she had also assisted her mother and brother to freedom. Theirs was a completely foreign world to mine and I cannot begin to imagine experiencing all they endured. Time and again Hyeonseo Lee and her family put their lives at risk, were at the mercy of con men, brokers, corrupt police and other officials expecting to be bribed whether to turn a blind eye or to ease their paths to freedom.

I am often bewildered about why the people of places like North Korea remain loyal to tyrannical governments and Hyonseo explained it this way "North Koreans who have never left don't think critically because they have no point of comparison - with previous governments, different policies, or with other societies in the outside world."

I can only admire this young lady who has not only written this book but who also testified at the first United Nations Commission of Enquiry on human rights in North Korea, and was invited to do a TED talk. A very informative and worthy read. ...more
5

Jul 10, 2016

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 4.5 stars. One of the better books I've read on North Korean defection. Kudos to the co-author who brilliantly translated Lee's emotional journey into a page-turner.

The third part was my favorite because it involved her family's long and arduous journey to join her in South Korea. I wasn't surprised that both her mother and brother longed to return to the North because adapting to life in Seoul presented a tremendous and negative cultural shock. While it is impossible for me to imagine what 4.5 stars. One of the better books I've read on North Korean defection. Kudos to the co-author who brilliantly translated Lee's emotional journey into a page-turner.

The third part was my favorite because it involved her family's long and arduous journey to join her in South Korea. I wasn't surprised that both her mother and brother longed to return to the North because adapting to life in Seoul presented a tremendous and negative cultural shock. While it is impossible for me to imagine what daily life would be like in the North Korean regime, I can imagine that adapting to a polar opposite way of living in the day-to-day - full of unknowns and experiences so uncommon (such as using an ATM) - might make me wish to return to the the devil I knew.

I gave this book 4.5 stars because I wanted to read more about the family's struggles adapting to life in Seoul. Lee gives us glimpses of their difficulties but I wish that aspect was meatier. ...more
5

Apr 13, 2018

An exceptionally illuminating book into life inside North Korea, and the risks in escaping it, from a brave and talented young woman
4

Mar 03, 2017

Being an American, I knew a little about the hardships in North Korea, as well as how crazy Kim Jong-Il was (& now Kim Jong-Un). But reading this memoir of a North Korean defector's account just floored me. It definitely opened my eyes
5

Sep 09, 2018

This is the third book that I’ve read about North Korea. My favorite is still Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, and one that I highly recommend. “The Girl with Seven Names” is a close second. I could barely put this book down. It’s beautifully written, so moving, the type of book that you can’t stop thinking about.


Notice the framed pictures of the leaders inside this North Korean home. When couples get married, they’re given framed pictures with a specific cloth that must be used only for This is the third book that I’ve read about North Korea. My favorite is still Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, and one that I highly recommend. “The Girl with Seven Names” is a close second. I could barely put this book down. It’s beautifully written, so moving, the type of book that you can’t stop thinking about.


Notice the framed pictures of the leaders inside this North Korean home. When couples get married, they’re given framed pictures with a specific cloth that must be used only for those pictures. The pictures have to be placed at the highest spot in the home and cleaned regularly. Failure to do so and failure to take care of them properly, can lead to one’s being sent off to a labor camp.

Some quotes that I thought are worth sharing:
“Kindness toward strangers is rare in North Korea. There is risk in helping others. The irony was that by forcing us to be good citizens, the state made accusers and informers of us all.”

“It is mandatory from elementary school to attend public executions. Often classes would be cancelled so students could go.”

“Sadly, as the historian Andrei Lankov put it, a regime that’s willing to kill as many people as it takes to stay in power tends to stay in power for a very long time.”

“Kind people who put others before themselves would be the first to die. It was the ruthless and the selfish who would survive.”

“Dictatorships may seem strong and unified, but they are always weaker than they appear.” ...more
4

Dec 27, 2016

Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Country: North Korea

This is the second book that I have read, which tells the stories of North Korean defectors, the first being Nothing to Envy.

I debated with myself whether I need another book for my book world trip, but what set my mind was the idea, that while Nothing to Envy is a story told through a "middle man", The Girl with Seven Names is an autobiography. Ultimately, now I can say that the difference between the two books is mostly in the Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Country: North Korea

This is the second book that I have read, which tells the stories of North Korean defectors, the first being Nothing to Envy.

I debated with myself whether I need another book for my book world trip, but what set my mind was the idea, that while Nothing to Envy is a story told through a "middle man", The Girl with Seven Names is an autobiography. Ultimately, now I can say that the difference between the two books is mostly in the way they view the subject. Hyeonseo Lee tells her own experiences, the life as she knew it, the world as she was taught to view it. However, Barbara Demick's book is more of a collection of stories, told through the prism of someone who knows the political situation well and could define the difference between what the defectors were experiencing, and what they knew about the world, versus what was actually happening. While this is mentioned in Lee's narrative, she talks about it more in retrospect, as when certain political and historical situations were unfolding, she was oblivious to the facts, having been indoctrinated in the North Korean values.

For me, The Girl with Seven Names was a very valuable and interesting look into North Korea, and especially the way the people there view the world. But more so, as Hyeonseo Lee says so herself, she was not even from the lower classes of society, so she had it better than the rest. And "better" was not starving to death, not being sold as a bride in China, not being invited to serve and please the "leader".

I think it's really hard for any of us, even those, like me, who have lived in a communist, or post-communist country, to imagine the level of poverty, corruption and censure that people experience in a country like North Korea. I've witnessed firsthand only one somewhat similar country, that I'd rather not name, and it saddened me deeply how much people need to put up with to gain even their basic human rights, how much bribery is needed to not be falsely accused of a crime you didn't commit, or how little you have, and yet learn to live with. That is not to say that I'm not seeing remains of this to this day in my own country. There was one particular sentence in The Girl with Seven Names, which reminded me of how Bulgarians can be, and which is something that I've heard even from foreigners who otherwise like or even love Bulgaria and the Bulgarian people:

"North Koreans have a gift for negativity towards others, the effect of a lifetime of compulsory criticism sessions."

While to my knowledge, people haven't had those criticism sessions here, I feel like pessimism and negativity are only two of many things that get born from regimes like the one in North Korea. So in many ways, the book was both very alien and unimaginable, but also very familiar, and close to home.

The fact which saddened my while reading both The Girl with Seven Names, and Nothing to Envy, is how North Koreans are treated while trying to defect. I would understand the unnecessary repercussions if North Koreans were not wanted in South Korea. But knowing that South Korea welcomes them, for all the countries around to stop the defectors, imprison them, or return them to North Korea to be punished or even executed, seems the highest level of inhumane.

While reading this book, I couldn't stop thinking how lucky Hyeonseo Lee was in comparison to other defectors. At the very least, she managed to get out, and save her family, and even become a spokesperson about the rights of North Koreans. But what about all of those who were detained, killed, or maybe even worse...?

I think that books like this one are such which every person should read. Especially those who live happy little lives in a rich country in the West, and have no understanding of how the world works, or how bad some people have it. I'm sorry if it seems harsh, but the lack of empathy in some countries has reached levels which are so high that should be criminal. We're all people, so we shouldn't just accept that we deserve to have it better than others. ...more
5

Nov 15, 2015

What a fascinating look inside a place so shrouded in secrecy. I've watched a couple of documentaries about North Korea on Netflix, and was shocked by the extent of indoctrination and how isolated the North Korean people are from knowledge of the world beyond their borders. This is the story of a young girl who had it pretty good in North Korea, comparatively speaking [the ludicrousness of that statement is illustrated by the fate of her father], but was starting to have some doubts and What a fascinating look inside a place so shrouded in secrecy. I've watched a couple of documentaries about North Korea on Netflix, and was shocked by the extent of indoctrination and how isolated the North Korean people are from knowledge of the world beyond their borders. This is the story of a young girl who had it pretty good in North Korea, comparatively speaking [the ludicrousness of that statement is illustrated by the fate of her father], but was starting to have some doubts and questions about the awesomeness of her homeland, and the supposed benevolence of its rulers. In an act of teenage rebellion and impetuousness, she decided to sneak across the border to China for a quick look around. Little did she know that she'd be leaving her family behind for many years, that she'd be placing them in grave danger, and that she, as a 17 year old girl with no money, would have to figure out how to deal with the consequences of her impulsive act and make it on her own from there on out.

The beginning of the book describes life inside North Korea, and it's almost impossible for someone born in a free country to imagine a life like this. The thing is, if you were born of a higher social caste, like the author's family, life wasn't all that bad so long as you played the game, watched your every word, and didn't mind living under the constant threat of arrest and public execution.

This book reads like fiction. It's filled with twists and turns and kept me on the figurative edge of my seat. Things were not totally peachy just by virtue of escape across the border. Illegals in China get shipped back to North Korea all the time, and the threat of detection is ever-present. Nor is it simple for a young North Korean with no papers to make a living. Hence the decision to make it across the border to South Korea and to formally defect. The route to do that, and the challenges and risks involved, were many.

I alternated between thinking the author was incredibly brave, crazy, lucky, or some combination of all. She's determined to see her family again, and she makes that happen. The story of how is gripping.

We might like to think that a person trapped within the borders of North Korea would be ecstatic to escape to a land of greater opportunity, but the challenges, and adjustments, are huge. I was thrilled to see the pictures of Hyeonseo Lee and her family at the end, because they look happy. She's got a book that made the Goodreads list of top non-fiction books for 2015, so I just have to say, "You go girl!" ...more
5

Nov 11, 2019

The author of this book, Hyeonseo Lee, went through hell and back to escape a horrible situation and to reunite with her family. She is a remarkable human being and everyone should be thankful she shared her story with the world. She did an amazing job getting her thoughts down on paper and it was a no brainer giving this book a five star rating.
3

Aug 17, 2015

North Korea memoirs are always difficult. The stories of escape aren't yet so common as to be mundane (though perhaps we should hope for the day they are) but they're difficult to put into great prose.

Hyeonseo Lee tells of a remarkable upbringing in that reclusive country, although in her border town people seem to cross into China and back with surprising ease. Her escape story and life in China testifies to her grit and intelligence. And the story of how she adopted seven different names in North Korea memoirs are always difficult. The stories of escape aren't yet so common as to be mundane (though perhaps we should hope for the day they are) but they're difficult to put into great prose.

Hyeonseo Lee tells of a remarkable upbringing in that reclusive country, although in her border town people seem to cross into China and back with surprising ease. Her escape story and life in China testifies to her grit and intelligence. And the story of how she adopted seven different names in her life, and what they all meant, is heartbreaking for those of us with more stable lives. And she's certainly written a compulsive page turner.

But we're just waiting for that great North Korean memoir. The one that really cracks into the mass public consciousness. The classic we'll all point to when that hideous regime exists only in history. ...more
5

Jul 04, 2015

Hyeonseo Lee grew up carefully cleaning picture frames for weekly inspections by government officials in white linen gloves. In her classroom and at her mother’s job, weekly meetings were conducted in which everyone in attendance had to confess their guilt about something and accuse others of the same. The leaders of her country were made heroes in fairy tales told by her kindergarten teachers. Those who did not cry enough when Kim Il-Sung died mysteriously disappeared. Even living on the Hyeonseo Lee grew up carefully cleaning picture frames for weekly inspections by government officials in white linen gloves. In her classroom and at her mother’s job, weekly meetings were conducted in which everyone in attendance had to confess their guilt about something and accuse others of the same. The leaders of her country were made heroes in fairy tales told by her kindergarten teachers. Those who did not cry enough when Kim Il-Sung died mysteriously disappeared. Even living on the borderland between North Korea and China, where some Chinese channels could be picked up and hundreds of goods were smuggled into the country every day, the oppressive hand of the regime was constantly felt. When Lee is finally able to make a trip to the other side of the border at the age of 17, she tastes freedom, however skewed, for the first time, and she realizes she can never return home.

This book was incredible. Lee’s journey was both harrowing and inspirational. To get a glimpse into one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the world was incredibly valuable, and the experiences Lee recounts after her escape are incredible. The Girl with Seven Names, titled for the different names Lee had to adopt to avoid deportation while making a new life for herself, tells a fantastic story with a unique perspective.

When she made her escape at 17, Lee was just hoping to spend a couple days in China before coming back home, afraid that if she waited until she was 18, the punishment if she were caught would be a lot harsher. However, after she arrived on the other side, she was told that it was not safe for her to return to her country ever again. Suddenly, all Lee had in the world were the clothes on her back, and she had to learn how to survive in a country that would instantly deport her if they knew where she was from. Coming from that kind of a mindset, being a rebellious teenager who didn’t have any motivation at the time to become a political refugee or human rights activist, created such an interesting perspective in this reading. Combined with the themes of survivalism and family duty, this book turned out to be quite a page turner.

The Girl with Seven Names is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for people looking for a fresh new memoir to read, those who are interested in international affairs, or those to whom Korea holds a more personal interest. ...more
5

Feb 19, 2019

I read this about a year ago but the story has not left me. I am in awe of the author, Hyeonseo Lee, and her determination at the age of 17 to escape from the oppressive regime of North Korea. Her story is compelling and I had trouble putting it down. It ends far better than the stories of most other defectors. This young woman showed incredible strength and perseverance not only in her escape to freedom, but finally successful she then had to face terrifying twists and turns in her new world. I read this about a year ago but the story has not left me. I am in awe of the author, Hyeonseo Lee, and her determination at the age of 17 to escape from the oppressive regime of North Korea. Her story is compelling and I had trouble putting it down. It ends far better than the stories of most other defectors. This young woman showed incredible strength and perseverance not only in her escape to freedom, but finally successful she then had to face terrifying twists and turns in her new world. Her own escape was miraculous and fascinating, but that she put herself back in the same dangerous environment in order to help her not forgotten beloved family escape, and then guide them out on a dangerous 2,000 mile trip through China and Laos is amazing. She remains a compassionate activist for her people and her country. You can watch her TED talks, interviews, news reports and learn more about her volunteer work here: www.hyeonseo-lee.com/eng/default.shtml . This was an incredible, powerful and illuminating story! ...more

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