Summary

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world's most ruthless and secretive dictatorships - and the story of one woman's terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.
As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom, and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life.
Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed, surely her country could not be, as she had been told "the best on the planet".
Aged 17, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be 12 years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities - involving imprisonment, torture and possible public execution.
Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. And 12 years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.
This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo's escape from the darkness into the light but also of her coming of age and education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life - not once but twice - first in China then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.
©2015 Hyeonseo Lee (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
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Critic reviews

"The most riveting TED talk ever." (Oprah)
"This is a powerful story of an escapee from North Korea. In the hallowed meeting rooms of the United Nations in New York, ambassadors from North Korea recently sought to shout down stories like this. But these voices will not be silenced. Eventually freedom will be restored. History will vindicate Hyeonseo Lee and those like her for the risks they ran so that their bodies and their minds could be free. And so that we could know the truth." (Michael Kirby, chair of the UN commission on human rights abuses in North Korea)
"When I first met Hyeonseo Lee, the unflinching manner in which she told her story was inspirational. She experienced hunger, coldness, fear, terror, threats and pursuit. All this she had to endure, simply for being a North Korean refugee. But the one thing that she held on to was her humanity, ever stronger as she continuously sublimated her hardships into hope. This is a sad and beautiful story of a girl who could not even keep her name, yet overcome all with the identity of what it is to be human." (Jang Jin-sung, author of Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By reader101 on 14-08-17

Great story, gripping & educational

Loved the book. Incredible story. What a woman! So much courage and determination. Wasn't keen on narrators cockney second voices thought that was irritating.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Pootle_around on 12-05-17

Hideous pronunciation of Mandarin!

Such a shame they used an English narrator who couldn't pronounce 'alias' and had a horrible intonation when pronouncing 'Mandarin'. Every time she said it, it made me want to scream. Interesting autobiography but poor narrator was distracting.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Daryl on 16-07-17

A Love for a Dictatorship?

I was incredulous upon starting this compelling book. How could someone love a country like North Korea, where simply speaking out against the government could be cause for a death sentence?
And yet, it is very clear that Hyeonseo Lee does love her country, for the life she lived there when times were good.
In riveting prose, she describes her life in North Korea as a child, who her parents were, what was good and what was tragic. A trip across the river into China was risky business, but as a teenager she went across to experience the world and has not been able to return to the country of her birth since then - nearly twenty years ago. She describes her actions with the benefit of hindsight, how she could be naive and cruel and otherwise hurtful to those around her. It is clear that she deeply regrets some of her actions, particularly as a teenager toward her father and brother. But in a country like North Korea, second chances are few, and the opportunities to make amends are few and far between. Hyeonseo Lee clearly carries a fighter's spirit, a lot of regret, and yet hope for the country of her birth.
As others have stated, another narrator would have been a better choice. As the author has no connection whatsoever to the UK, having a British narrator was quite jarring. She was good at her performance, but an American or Asian narrator would have been a better choice.
Overall, well worth your time and credit.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Grace on 26-09-15

Five stars

Would you listen to The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story again? Why?

I hardly ever give a book 5 stars and this is my first review but this book is unbelievable, I could barely put it down. This book is a page turner and even though you know the outcome, your heart pounds as you read her journey and that of her family. It is sad at times but overall, an empowering story of strength.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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