The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this because my friend Becky recommended it. I enjoyed it very much. The author is a North Korean “defector.” I use the quotes because there was no political aspect to her leaving North Korea. She was an impulsive teenager who wanted to visit relatives in China. She waded across the Yalu River intending to return, but got trapped on the other side due to a crackdown at the border. This is actually typical of so-called defectors there. The brainwashing in North Korea is so complete, so successful, that the citizens there think of South Korea, America, and the west as evil and impoverished – not some place of freedom and wealth, not a place anyone would want to live.
The life she describes in North Korea is so appalling it is mind-boggling, yet growing up in that environment, it seems normal. She had a happy childhood. The book is worth reading just to appreciate how evil the Kim regime and all totalitarian states are. The author was undoubtedly bold and resourceful, yet also foolish in many of the choices she made. Most had little forethought and potentially dire consequences. She was taken advantage of many times and almost ended up as a white slave. She taught herself Mandarin and English out of necessity after becoming stranded abroad. She changed her identity many times to avoid capture and repatriation, hence the book title.
The writing style is a quirky combination of eloquent English (probably crafted by her co-writer, e.g. ghost writer, David John) and some phrasings that must have been translations of Korean phrases, like “the rain came down in lead rods.” It was at times charming and other times awkward.