Hyeonseo Lee – The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story

cover_girl_with_seven_names_hb0x200The Girl With Seven Names is the remarkable memoir of Hyeonseo Lee, born in 1981 or 1982 in North Korea who fled her country in 1997. Lineage expells her biological father very soon. Family, connections and social position are very important in North Korea. Her mother raised Lee en her half-brother. Life’s not easy for this family and a set of uncles and aunts in Hyesan in the Ryaggang region at a Chinese border river. Smuggling, bribing is as normal as breathing and rationed food. Her step-father, active in the army, and a regular visitor to China dies too young. The Great Famine that hit the best world in the country in the 90s opens the eyes of the still young girl. Despite the education, youth movements, secret agents and social control, she wants to escape this regime.

Pretending a family visit she crosses the river and enters China without identification or money. Years of an emotional roller coaster ride, sparkles of hope, greater disasters, disappointments and bad feelings follow. The police, secret service, corrupt middlemen, wrong friends and terrible mistakes mark Lee’s story. As a reader you want to know what’s next, longing for a happy end. Does China or South Korea bring that? Will a forced marriage in China solve problems? Or a voluntary relationship with Kim from Seoul’s Gangnam District be the final episod? Seven changes of identity are necessary to settle in freedom, until she decides to help her mother and half-brother flee North Korea as well. How chilling is the conditioned freedom. How important are your familiy ties, identity, ethnic background, name and place you consider home!

The Girl with Seven Names is different from other stories of North Korean defectors. No prison camp escape, a total ignorance of Christians. This unique story is impressive!

About the author

Hyeonseo Lee grew up in North Korea but escaped to China in 1997. In 2008, when she was 28-years-old, she came to Seoul, South Korea, where she struggled to adjust to life in the bustling city. North Korean defectors often have a hard time in South Korea, she noted in the Wall Street Journal: “We defectors have to start from scratch. Prejudice against North Koreans and icy stares were other obstacles that were hard to cope with.”

Now a student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, she has become an advocate for fellow refugees, even helping close relatives leave North Korea after they were targeted. Her dream? As she told the Korea Times, she’d like to work at the UN or an NGO that advocates for the human rights of North Koreans, including their right to be treated as political refugees.

In 2013 she told her story in California in a TED Talk.

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