The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee // We Learn Something New Everyday

Saturday, 23 April 2016
The Girl With Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee
Publication: July 2, 2015, by William Collins
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

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.
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.
This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo’s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life – not once, but twice – first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.

My Thoughts:

I always had wanted to know what it is like to live in the experience of someone like Hyeonseo Lee. Of course, I would NEVER want to be stuck in her situation, but to read about one's experience in a first-hand manner is exquisite. It is something new, beautiful and memorable. The situation itself is never, ever beautiful, but the words that authors usually put their experiences in are. The Girl With Seven Names' title seemed awfully weird when I first discovered this memoir through a friend. Why seven names? Is this symbolic for North Korea or something? And then I began reading; I fell in love with this story and all of the memories that Hyeonseo had to share with readers. This is honestly our only chance to discover the life of a girl who escaped from North Korea. 

I feel hesitant to write this review. We do not know, in our society, what we are allowed to say and what we cannot say. With a dash of magic in her easy-to-comprehend, rich writing, Hyeonseo allows us to learn what we could say and what we cannot. We are in a free society, after all. In the end, we realize our gratefulness for Hyeonseo's retelling. Our society could have just sat behind and went on, but she delivered her interesting story to each and every one of us.

"The audience is silent. I began to speak. I hear my voice trembling. I'm telling them about the girl who grew up believing her nation to be the greatest on earth, and who witnessed her first public execution at the age of seven."

Every reader will feel that this book hit them hard, that they are transformed afterwards. I love reading non-fiction because it delivers new experiences to my heart, even though my eyes have not seen them, but the fact that my heart has. I cannot really comment on the life of a girl, as things happen when they are absolutely meant to happen, but I must say that the writing was practically perfect. I have read many, many memoirs, and almost none can compete to Hyeonseo's. Lee delivers a first-hand experience of tough hardships, romance and just about the experiences that any young aged woman undergoes in a new society, just as if I decide to move to New York City one day. While living a completely different life than many of us, her story is just about the same, honestly.

I LOVE THIS MEMOIR. Although I have been reading it for the longest time, thanks to the busyness of school and all, every moment was memorable. I LOVED IT, and hope that Hyeonseo's story is as inspiring to others as it was to me. I would really, really want to meet Hyeonseo and hear her legacy once more from her own words, verbally.

What is your favourite memoir? Have you read any about North Korean defectors?

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