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.