Friday, 27 July 2018

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee

“One of the main reasons that distinctions between oppressor and victim are blurred in North Korea is that no one there has any concept of rights. To know that your rights are being abused, or that you are abusing someone else’s, you first have to know that you have them, and what they are.”
Hyeonseo Lee

Have you ever wondered what life is like living in North Korea?
The Girl with Seven Names gives an astonishing and horrifying insight into the world Hyeonseo Lee grew up in, and the ordeals she survived when she left North Korea at the age of 17.

What is considered a relatively comfortable life to a North Korean is mind-boggling: Hyeonseo’s Kindergarten featured a classroom wall painted with a mural of a North Korean soldier simultaneously impaling an American, Japanese and South Korean soldier with his rifle bayonet. Hyeonseo’s ‘Uncle Opium’ made a living illegally dealing drugs – supply was plentiful as state laboratories made high quality heroin to sell abroad to raise foreign currency. Also at the age of seven she witnessed her first hanging; these happened regularly and in this instance the soldiers used a railway bridge as gallows.

Hyeonseo’s family lived in a northern town, beside a river bordering China. One day Hyeonseo decided to visit the town across the frozen river, naïvely wanting to visit her relatives whom actually lived four hours drive away. The result was that she was then unable to safely return home and she had inadvertently defected, causing much trouble for her family then not seeing her mother for 12 years; as well as having to change her identity many times so she could stay in China and eventually South Korea.

Hyeonseo often regretted her defection over the years and dreadfully missed her family as well as feeling extreme guilt (she eventually devises a plan to try and get her mother and brother out also). She was also shocked and disbelieving upon learning that much of the propaganda she had grown up with was incorrect. North Koreans literally believe the Kim Dynasty members are living deities and that North Korea is the greatest nation on earth.

This is an informative and well-written memoir; it will make you feel very lucky.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: The Girl with Seven Names

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