Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review // The Girl with Seven Names

One fateful night, just when she is one month shy of her 18th birthday, Hyeonseo Lee crosses the frozen Yalu river into China, with little more than curiosity and a rebelling spirit.  The first words of her mother when she calls was “Don’t come back.”

Thus begins a tormenting and gripping story of fear and the uncertainty in which Lee must figure out how to navigate in a foreign country with no money and identity. 
It’s a story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

Lee was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. At age seven, she witnesses her first public execution and self-criticism sessions were part of her daily sessions at school. Those who did not cry when Kim Il-Sung died mysteriously disappeared.

In this powerful memoir, Lee recounts her life inside the secretive communist brutal regime. As a survival strategy, she changed her name for seven times, thus the title of the book.

In her dire effort to reunite with her mother and brother, she plans to meet her brother arranged through the local broker.

‘Sixty thousand yuan - a fortune representing ten years’ wages at the restaurant-and a week’s imprisonment with the threat of rape, and all I achieved was a three minute reunion with Min-ho.’ 

In 2009, a little over a decade after she left North Korea, Lee gets an opportunity to get her mother and brother out, taking them on a long, extremely risky route through China to Laos where they could seek asylum in South Korea.

I’m aware that there is a ‘situation’ in North Korea. Yet other than knowing the name of the leader Kim Jong-un, I was unaware of the tightly suppressive dictatorship. The movie The Interview  provides a better insight, perhaps. 
I’ve thought that such regimes existed only in Hitler’s Germany. However, I’m baffled to learn that this is happening right under the sky we live in.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the ordeals she went through to escape to South Korea. Lee’s journey is harrowing and inspirational. She is a hero. This memoir is simply unputdownable. What happens next? Will she survive the journey? are the constant questions that looms your mind until you turn the last page. It’s an incredible book.  

The Girl with Seven Names is one of the best memoirs I’ve read so far. And it was terribly hard for me to come to terms that this is not a work of fiction. 


  1. Damn. I thought it was a fiction until I read your concluding lines. I watched some documentaries on North Korea's oppressive and completely isolated society on Youtube though which I acquired a better understanding of their society. Sad. I would love to read the book one day. Where do we get it?
    Hope you are fine, madam, by the way. Take care. :)

    1. Thank you Langa. I hope you're doing good as well.

      Its a memoir. Lee finished university and is an activist in North Korean human rights now. She has her TED talk as well. Very inspiring!

      I'm not sure if its available in the local bookstore since its published this July only and it takes time for books to reach here, you know that. But I'd be happy to lend you my copy if you'd really like. :

  2. Wow!! A great review. Would love to get hold of one. Did not know that you are into book reviews too. Now I know I have a blogger friend who shares yet another common interest with me.

  3. I thought that the book was fiction. I definitely want to read it. Sounds interesting.

    1. Its a biography. I highly recommend you to read it :).

  4. First of all, HIIIIIIIIIIIII! How are you? :)

    I watched a documentary about it. I was wondering if it was the same woman I saw on TV being interviewed to talk about her newly found life- free and united with her family.
    Anyways, such real life events reminds me that there are people who are struggling and suffering far more greater than what we go through on daily basis. Aren't we lucky that we don't have to tell a story like her!



    1. Hi Yeshi, Long time....All is good with me. Hope same is with you.

      Well, there are a lot of Korean defectors now who survive the ordeal to testify and make people like us realize how truly blessed we are as Bhutanese. She could be the one you saw on tv. You can watch her TED Talk.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  5. I came to Thimphu and made an attempt to find it though I am not a good reader. I wanted my wife to read it but could not find. I have marathoned around 5 book stores. Hehe. Felt interesting based on your review. Hope you are good madam.

    1. Oh I'm so sorry to hear that. I don't think the book is in store in Thimphu yet. I can share my copy if you'd like, let me know la.

  6. Oh! Many thanks indeed for shedding light on this book review and in fact; I found your blog url from your book review on, " La Ama "( a mother's call) by Chador Wangmo dated July 11,2015 on business Bhutan paper. Then I added and followed your blog from 23/11/15. Sure very excellent and inspirational write up and I really enjoyed reading every articles la. So keep writing and all the best.


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