Feb 2018 The Girl with Seven Names

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea

by Lee Hyeonseo

Book Group 1









Hyeonseo Lee's book is a story of a North Korean defector. She was almost an accidental defector! Lived in the North Korean town of Hyesan, near the border with China, often wondered why there were so many more lights on the Chinese side. One winter night in 1997, when she was 17, she walked across the frozen Yalu River to see for herself. What began as an excursion to satisfy her curiosity turned into a decade of hiding in China. In 2008, she made her way to South Korea where she was granted asylum. Eventually, through sheer grit and determination Hyeonseo managed to get her mother and brother to the South too.  


Our discussion was animated, it centered on how the North Korean government has kept a nation hostage using tools such as Songbun and an education system rooted in propagandist hero worship. We compared other dictatorships, even South Korea, that seems to have its own form of hierarchy in society. We discussed how Hyeonseo's struggles of identity were connected to her feeling of patriotism, and strongly felt that, neighboring countries were complicit in the sufferings of the North Korean people.


For most North Korean defectors, freedom once attained is still a double-edged sword,as most want to return to their old home in North Korea. There were questions that arose of having given up one system of inequality for another. Lastly, the discussion veered to unification. Did we believe that the two Koreas would ever be united? I think the room was divided on the issue. 

A great discussion with many passionate views! Hyeonseo Lee is on Ted talks - here is the link! https://www.ted.com/talks/hyeonseo_lee_my_escape_from_north_korea.



Nisha Dobberstein