When it comes to my reading choices I usually stick to fiction. I am not prejudiced in any way, it is just a residue from many sleepless nights which I spent as a child with a fantasy novel in one hand a flash light in the other. Yet sometimes I manage to break the mold. I am glad I did it for this book.
To be completely honest the last time I thought about North Korea before reading this book was during that drama surrounding the release of some silly comedy with Seth Rogan and James Franco. North Korea always seemed too surreal to me. An ancient artifact of times long gone (maybe not that long; I never experienced communism, but my parents did). Reading this book anchored North Korea in my reality and it is not going to leave it any time soon.
“The Girl with Seven Names” gives a unique insight into North Korean society. The author writes about her childhood there with real nostalgic sentiment we all fall into when we think about those simpler and happier days, but she filters them through the knowledge of the world that she possess right now. At first it seemed crazy that anyone could think fondly of their time in such place. However how can you know about it when you have nothing to compare your life too. Hyeonseo Lee writes about her childhood as if it was a fairy tale slowly turning more grim and claustrophobic as she was growing up.
As stories of North Korean defectors go, the author can consider herself lucky and she even acknowledges that. However it does not make her story in any less horrifying. The fact that she survived it all is not only a testament of her determination and cunningness, but also a scary catalogue of real life villainy and corruption.
This story made me afraid, it challenged me and my world, it diminished my faith in humanity, but it also gave me hope.
The only thing I had a problem with was that almost every chapter ended with a cliffhanger.
Four out of five South Korean passports.