The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea

Hyeonse Lee           Pages: 293            Published: 2015

The book: Lee was born and grew up in North Korea. At the age of seventeen she escaped to China. She lived in China for ten years and then worked out how to get to South Korea. Her mother and brother were still in North Korea, and Lee wanted to get them out. This is Lee’s true story of her life in North Korea and her subsequent escape to freedom.

You might like it because: This is a fascinating book that provides the reader with a lot of insights into the hardship of life in communist North Korea. It’s an amazing story of determination, free-will, and triumph under heartbreaking circumstances.

What did other people say?
“Compelling…The things she witnessed as a child in North Korea are very close to being beyond comprehension: grotesque but also laughable and illogical. A fascinating book.” – The Times (U.K.)

“Chilling… A journey of deception, lies and name changes so tangled that for a few nights my dreams were clouded by it…[Lee is] a hero”- Literary Review

How quickly will you get into the book? The prologue and first two chapters were very interesting.  Chapters 3-15 are a bit slow, but from chapter 16 (page 79) onwards I could not put it down.

You might not like it because: At times, particularly from chapter 3-15, the prose style is very dull and uninteresting.
Some parts of the story don’t quite add up. For example, Lee’s account of why she went to China in the book is different from the explanation she gives in her TED talk, which can be found online. That is not to say I did not believe that she is an escapee from North Korea. In fact, based on her book and those by other defectors, it seems that lying is a necessary part of life there. And defectors may need to lie to protect family members still living in North Korea. But the reader is left wondering what the truth is, which might be frustrating.

What might you read next?
Read some Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction set in North Korea, The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.

Or try A Corpse in Koryo by James Church, which is, surprisingly, a detective novel set in North Korea.

© 2018