The Girl With Seven Names [Book Review]

December 20, 2019

 The Girl With Seven Names: Escape From North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee

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Genre/Categories/Setting: Nonfiction, Memoir, Defection, Political Freedom, North Korea

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

A compelling story of escape…determination…survival…family…kindness…

In The Girl With Seven Names, Hyeonseo Lee shares her experience as a child growing up in a high-class family in North Korea. Her home bordered China and as she became a teenager, she grew more curious about life outside of North Korea. On an impulsive lark, she decides to cross the river and sneak into China to take a peek and to visit some distant relatives. Her plan to come right back to North Korea is derailed when she receives word that it is not safe to return. For the next few years, she lives as an illegal immigrant in China, working and quickly learning the language to survive. After twelve years, she risks everything to seek asylum in South Korea and to rescue her mother and brother from North Korea. To complete her dangerous mission, she receives help from a kind and generous stranger.

Amazon Rating: 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Reaction: Wow! The Girl With Seven Names is everything I love in a memoir! Through this remarkable story, I was able to experience what it would be like to live a different life. Readers may question a few of her impulsive choices, yet her actions seem to make sense in the context of her sudden freedom and attempts to adjust to life beyond a dictator’s control. In addition, to Hyeonseo’s individual story, greater themes of kindness, family loyalty, bravery, resilience, and determination emerge.

Writing: Although the content of the story is compelling and unputdownable, the story is simply told and the writing could have been stronger. Part of the charm is that the narrative reads like a friend is sitting across the dinner table sharing her life story with you.

Themes: I love that Hyeonseo extends her story to address some larger themes. The kindness and generosity of a stranger greatly affect Hyeonseo and her expanding view of the world and understanding of humanity. She describes in detail her adjustment to living in South Korea as a North Korean and how surprised she was to discover that South Korea has its own culture and it is not just another Korea. I also admire her commitment to family and her continuing compassion for the welfare of fellow North Koreans.

Content warning/trigger warning: atrocities that occur living under a dictator (e.g. references to hunger and public executions)

Recommended: In case you missed The Girl With Seven Names on its pub date in 2015, put it on your TBR now! I highly recommend this poignant and compelling memoir for readers who are looking for their next eye-opening and unforgettable nonfiction read, for those who have connections with Korea, for fans of unputdownable stories with brave and determined young women, and definitely for book clubs.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars (the memoir content is a solid 5)

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The Girl with Seven Names

The Girl With Seven Names Information

Meet the Author, Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo Lee is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea. She has completed writing her memoir, “The Girl With Seven Names,” which has been published in July 2015 in more than 20 countries. It has become a global bestseller.

Over 13 million people have viewed her TED Talk about her life in North Korea, her escape to China and struggle to bring her family to freedom. Hyeonseo has given testimony about North Korean human rights in front of a special panel of the UN Security Council, and has discussed the issues with important leaders such as UN Ambassador Samantha Powers.

She recently completed her undergraduate studies in English and Chinese at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and has been a Young Leader at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Hyeonseo spends much of her time speaking about North Korean human rights and North Korean refugee issues, including speeches at the Stanford University Global Speaker Series, Princeton University, New York University Law School, and at various venues throughout the World. She has personally met public officials like UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the South Korean Minister of Unification, Yu Woo-ik, to discuss these issues.

Hyeonseo has written articles for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal Korea Real-Time, the London School of Economics Big Ideas blog, and worked as a student journalist for the South Korean Ministry of Unification. She has also been interviewed by the BBC, CNN, CBS News and numerous other television, newspaper and radio outlets throughout the world.

She is currently writing another book with other female North Koreans living in South Korea, and is planning to start an organization to help promising North Korean refugees interact with the international community.


Have you read The Girl With Seven Names or is it on your TBR?

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

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  1. Wonderful review Carol. I just checked and my library has this one, so hope to read it in Florida. My goal for 2020 is to read one non-fiction per month (I don’t read very much now, so this is a start for me) and this will be one in January or February.

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