The Girl with Seven Names
By Lee Hyeonseo
With David John
Read April 2018
This is one of several books published in 2015 by defectors from North Korea. It is the only one read by this reader who can’t compare it with the other books. However this reader can certainly recommend it for a look at life in North Korea and the daunting challenges facing those who wish to leave North Korea and live peacefully in South Korea or elsewhere.
The book has three sections: “the Greatest Nation on Earth”, “To the Heart of the Dragon”, and “Journey into Darkness”. The first section describes the author’s childhood including descriptions of the education children received to appropriately revere Kim Il-Sung “The Great Founder” and his son Kim Jong-il “The Great Leader” as well as “The Greatest Nation on Earth”. All families had portraits of these men hung prominently in their homes and protected them carefully. Her father focused on bringing the portraits to safety when their house was on fire, choosing this task above saving other household items. The process of informing on other children for sins against the state was a regular part of the school week. The second section describes her escape to China, her life there as an illegal alien (China pursues and expels North Koreans), journey to South Korea and her difficulties adjusting to life there. In includes her amazement and initial disbelief in learning that many teachings of her childhood were blatant lies. The last section describes her dramatic efforts to rescue her mother and brother from North Korea and get them to South Korea via Laos. The difficulties she encountered and managed to overcome to accomplish this are simply astonishing. While she remains grateful to be out of the harshness and constraints of North Korea, she also describes her longing to be able to return to her homeland, likely a universal feeling of many who have left their homeland.
The author gave a Ted Talk in February 2013 which has been viewed by millions on You Tube. While this 13 minute talk is interesting, this reader recommends reading this book to get a more in-depth look at her extraordinary life and what she is teaching us regarding the realities of North Korea.