"My life feels richer for ‘meeting’ these people through the pages..."
This week, Amanda Martin library assistant at Southwater library, explains why The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee is her favourite book.
“I read this autobiography for the first time about two years ago following a recommendation. I love true stories when the teller has lived through something truly remarkable; has shown great courage and depth of character in finding a way to overcome something huge. We can listen to the adventure as it unfolds from the safety of knowing the author survived to tell their tale! I am frequently left in awe of the strength, hope and creativity with which people face seemingly insurmountable circumstances. My life feels richer for ‘meeting’ these people through the pages and reading their story feels like I am honouring their experience. This book is no exception. It is the story of a bright and feisty young woman who grew up in North Korea. I was intrigued from the start; a rare opportunity to hear a first-hand account of life in this closed and oppressed country through the unquestioning and trusting eyes of a child who grew up under the regime. Equally interesting was how she learned to change her mindset once she was physically free.
“Life in North Korea was not as I imagined it. Oppression, yes, but there were many more nuances to her existence and that of her family. She describes her school and education, the control which ran through every aspect of life, the emotional manipulation, privileges her family ‘enjoyed’ and the ways they found to survive, distrust of everyone including family members, loyalty to the ‘great leader’, distortion of truth and warped view they were given of the rest of the world. This part of the book is very interesting if also sad – we know so little of the lives lived by these beautiful people and I appreciated reading her first-hand account.
“The adventure really begins when she fulfils a long time desire to visit the country on the other bank of the river she grew up beside. She is almost eighteen and since the penalty for being found out is much more severe for an adult, this is her last opportunity, as a child, to visit China. She is unable to tell even her closest family members of her plan for fear of putting them in danger. Her return is delayed and she crosses that all important milestone into adulthood. A brief text from her mum warns her ‘don’t come back’ and the adventure of her life has begun! She describes her sadness at leaving behind her mother and brother and a steep learning curve as she finds a way to survive in this alien world. She is shocked and even offended to learn that North Korea is not admired by everyone or even anyone as she had supposed. In time she begins to question everything she had known and her own affection for her ‘great leader’ and homeland. Her survival is far from guaranteed as she finds there are spies in China ready to take her back to what would be an unimaginable future. She has to survive and keep re-inventing herself, eventually finding her way to South Korea. She manages to reunite with her family though there are many challenges and the ending is unpredictable. Her ability to learn languages is as enviable as her bravery, ingenuity and her will to survive. Through its twists and turns it is a fascinating and nail-biting account. The story ends well and that for me is all-important - to be a really enjoyable read and one which leaves me invigorated and uplifted.”
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