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The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

The Girl with Seven Names (2015)

by Hyeonseo Lee, David John

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3872542,227 (4.22)27



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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This is a somewhat difficult book to read, but also quite interesting. The difficulty is with the subject matter, not the writing. The book is well written.

It begins by telling about life in North Korea when the author was growing up. N. Korea is a highly stratified society, stratified in terms of one's perceived loyalty to the ruling Kim family. So, the author and her brother grew up happily enough. Her parents had adequate jobs, and her mother was more than adept at smuggling and bribery so that she could provide some extras for her family. Smuggling and bribery are ok in N. Korea, in their place. The only unforgivable sin, apparently, is disrespect to the Kims.

The author's family lives along the Yalu River. China is just on the other side. People sneak over and back all the time. One day, as a young teenager, the author decides to go across the river for a "visit". She figures she'll be back within a day or so. She's just curious. But, once she's there, she really can't go back without causing severe problems for herself and her family. She has some distant relatives a few miles inland, and they take her in.

Because she's illegal, she can't go out alone. The Chinese authorities are continually on the look out for illegal N. Koreans. When they find them, they return them. So the author spends her days watching TV and learning Mandarin. She gets so good that she can pass, so to speak.

Her relatives try to marry her off to as guy who is so dull that death seems like a better option. So, the author runs off, and finds a way to survive. Well, time goes on, things happen, eventually, she makes it to Seoul and is taken into the S. Korean society. But she misses her mother and brother and contrives to smuggle them into S. Korea. More weird problems.

So, much of the book reads like "The Perils of Pauline", one damn crisis after another. The author manages to keep up her spirits and things work out in the end. Quite fascinating.

Interesting to read about life under the Kims in N. Korea. Basically, they are a family of marginally competent narcissistic autocrats. Life under such folks is pretty awful. And now, we've elected ourselves a narcissistic autocrat. With luck, our vaunted checks and balances will mitigate the damage. We'll see.
( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
Amazing true story of a young woman who escaped from North Korea in 1997. I could not put it down as the situations she went into and had to survive were beyond any that I've heard of. Our life is so different from hers and seeing how she came to terms with the intense programming of her native country was inspiring! ( )
  Katyefk | Jun 16, 2019 |
I really enjoyed this memoir about a North Korean woman's life growing up near the Chinese border in North Korea, her accidental turned determined escape from the country of her birth and the sometimes harrowing journey along the way. I was struck by the strength of the women in this story, and how the street smarts and superstitions they developed by growing up in a dictatorial regime ruled by propaganda was able to get them out of many difficult moments, but at the same time, their naivete of the outside world from growing up in that environment, got them into just as many life-altering situations.

The chapters in this book are very short, but serve well to keep the story moving. Many of us can relate to feeling like we have lived different lives in our lifetime - that we were different people before/after a certain event in our lives. In each of these life-changing events, the author also changes her name - or it is changed for her. There is something comforting about that, that your past doesn't follow you around, but also something startling and lonely about it as well.

This memoir reminded me a lot about Malala Yousafzai's memoir. I feel like I learned a lot about Pakistan, Afghanistan, and ISIS that many Americans wouldn't otherwise know, and that this knowledge comes from reading someone's experiences in their home country. Malala's experience growing up in Pakistan is looked back on fondly, but I imagine other girls who didn't have educated parents, a father who cared about his daughter as much as his son, the relative wealth and security, or the opportunities she had would remember their youth and their country very differently. I felt the same with [The Girl with Seven Names]. I feel like I learned so much about North Korea, but if I read a different memoir from someone who also grew up there I think it might have some similarities and very many differences. Many times in this memoir we experience Hyeonseo's shock that classmates of hers don't have any food in their cupboards or any spending money for treats, yet she doesn't understand why their lives would be different from her more privileged one. During the famine, when she travels by train to other cities and sees people emaciated and dressed in rags, then she travels to Pyongyang and sees the well-fed people and comparable opulence of the capital, I felt like this scene was the basis for the Hunger Games - with different provinces suffering to various degrees while the well-regarded loyalists in the capital remain blissfully unaware or uncaring of the suffering of their fellow citizens.

I highly recommend this memoir. As an easy read, it is acceptable for teens to adults. This would also be a great book club selection. ( )
  originalslicey | Jan 21, 2019 |
This is the true story of the author's life in North Korea and how she defected from a country that is trapped with a brutal communist leader. She lives near the border of China and dreams of crossing to a better life.

One night, when things have gotten so bad for her family, she makes the escape to China. The family has friends right across the border (smuggling trade was big where she lived in North Korea) and they agree to help her make safe passage. She has relatives in China, and she convinces her friends across the border to take her to them. The relatives had no idea she was coming, but welcomed the 17 year old and agree to hide her. She spends her days, weeks, months with her relatives learning Mandarin and hiding the fact that she escaped from North Korea.

Before she knows it, 2 years have passed and she feels that she has overstayed her welcome. She makes plans to get a job, and get her own place in China and leaves her relatives safety. She spends a decade in China hiding in plain site.

Homesickness, and worry about her mother and her younger brother make her realize that somehow she must return home. She meets a man that is from South Korea and he agrees to help her get her family to safety. With skill and perserverance she makes her way and starts the plan to move her mother and brother to the south. It takes many months to get her mother and brother to safety after convincing her mother she had to leave.

This was a great book. It gives you a good insight to what it is like for those living in North Korea. This book covers the 1990's and early 2000's - not that far in the past to imagine that this is going on now in this country. The citizens are trapped in a dictatorship and fear for their lives on a daily basis. One mis step could mean execution without a trial.

What she went through to escape, and then try and get her family to do the same is harrowing. She is imprisoned and interrogated and her family goes through the same just to leave North Korea for a better, freer life. They had been brainwashed their whole lives about what the world around them was like, and were shocked to find what it really was. I commend her for leaving, especially at a young age with no money and hardly any contacts to save herself and those she loves.

I recommend you reading this book. I think it gives us an eye opening experience of what it is like for the the citizens of North Korea. ( )
  JenMat | Jan 10, 2019 |
I didn't find the writing style conducive to believing this story was important. Too much emphasis on trivial detail distracted from what should have been highpoints of the narrative. Interesting view of a culture that believes that luck controls the outcome. ( )
  MM_Jones | Nov 23, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lee, Hyeonseoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
John, Davidmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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(Prologue) I was awoken by my mother's cry.
(chapter 1) One morning in the late summer of 1977, a young woman said goodbye to her sisters on the platform of Hyesan station and boarded the train for Pyongyang.
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Book description
As a child, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions indoctri
nated in N Kprea by the world's most secretive and brutal regime. And yet, having survived the chaos, starvation and repression of the Great Famine, she dared to escape to China in 1997 aged just 17. Knowing reprisals for herself and her family would be lethal if she returned, this lonely, vulnerable teenage immigrant tried to make a life for herself on the run.She discovered that a life with no identity, no reason to exist, was no easier than life inside N Korea. Now an acclaimed international campaigner, her brave and remarkable voice testifies to past horrors, and offers the most truthful account of ordinary life in N Korea.
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In 1997 the author, aged 17, escaped North Korea for China. Her mother's first words over the telephone to her lost daughter were "don't come back". The reprisals for all of them would have been lethal. Twelve years later she returned to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea in a very costly and dangerous journey. This eloquent book offers the first credible account of ordinary life in North Korea and gives an extraordinary insight into the life under one of the world's most ruthless and secretive dictatorships.… (more)

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