Review: This year, I really wanted to read a book that would give me more insights into North Korea. I never read a book set in North Korea before. To that effect, I recently finished reading ‘The Girl With Seven Names’ to satisfy my curiosity and it did not disappoint me. The writing itself was pretty average but that didn’t matter much to me because the story was powerful and uplifting. The best part is I didn’t know much about life under the regime in North Korea, except what I saw on the TV (which I don’t watch much) so this book gave me some valuable insights into this subject. My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is the story of a young woman who steps out of North Korea out of curiosity as a teenager and gets caught in a complex situation that prevents her from going back to her home country and reuniting with her mother and brother. The courage that she displays as she struggles to make a living on her own as an illegal immigrant and find a sense of belonging in a foreign country is commendable. Goes without saying that true courage can only be found by going through life’s trials and tribulations. She uses her intelligence, courage and cunning (as she admitted in the book) to survive various complex and challenging situations.
If you are looking to read an uplifting real life story with a strong female lead character while also learning a few things about the life under the regime in North Korea at the same time, then this book is for you. I thought it was interesting how escaping from the regime is not the hardest part for the North Koreans who manage to do this. Not that it is easy to escape the regime, it is hard. But the aftermath that ensues for them after escaping to their neighboring country (China) as illegal immigrants and North Koreans for that matter, was surprising to me.
“Dictatorships may seem strong and unified, but they are always weaker than they appear. They are governed by the whim of one man, who can’t draw upon a wealth of discussion and debate, as democracies can, because he rules through terror and the only truth permitted is his own.”
“I wanted to belong, like everyone else around me did, but there was no country I could say was mine. I had no one to tell me that many other people in the world have a fragmented identity; that it doesn’t matter. That who we are as a person is what’s important.”
“They were inhabitants of that other universe, governed by laws, human rights and welcoming tourist boards. It was oblivious to the one I inhabited, of secret police, assumed IDs and low-life brokers.”
“My most basic assumptions about human nature were being over-turned. In North Korea I’d learned from my mother that to trust anyone outside the family was risky and dangerous. In China I’d lived by cunning since I was a teenager, lying to hide the truth of my identity in order to survive. On the only occasion I’d trusted people I’d got into a world of trouble with the Shenyang police. Not only did I believe that humans were selfish and base, I also knew that plenty of them were actually bad – content to destroy lives for their own gain. I’d seen Korean-Chinese expose North Korean escapees to the police in return for money, I’d known people who’d been trafficked by others as if they were livestock. That world was familiar to me. All my life, random acts of kindness have been so rare that they’d stick in my memory and I’d think: how strange. What Dick had done changed my life. He showed me that there was another world where strangers helped strangers for no other reason than that it is good to do so, and where callousness was unusual, not the norm. Dick had treated me as if I were his family, or an old friend. Even now, I do not fully grasp his motivation. But from the day I met him the world was a less cynical place. I started feeling warmth for other people. This seemed so natural, and yet I’d never felt it before.”