Growing up, Hyeonseo and her family could look across the river into China and could not even imagine what life was like on the other side. It might as well have been another planet, so different were the two countries.
What began as a simple act of teenage defiance set her feet on a journey she never expected to take through China, Laos and finally as a refugee to South Korea. Each leg of her travels forced Hyeonseo to assume a new identity. The name she has chosen for herself in the end, Hyeon (sunshine) and seo (good fortune) is the woman she discovered she was after facing such insurmountable odds.
Hyeonseo Lee presented a TED talk about her experience which you can find here. She also spoke at the United Nations Security Council meeting in New York in 2014 about human rights violations that happen as a matter of course in North Korea. She did an interview with Time in 2015 entitled Freedom, Sanctions and North Korean Ice Cream as well.
I found The Girl with Seven Names a little difficult to read, not that it was complex, but there seemed to be an emotional reserve in the writing that made it challenging to connect with the author on a personal level. However, given all that this poor girl went through, it is only natural that the retelling is repressed emotionally. How else could she have gotten through it?
The author’s descriptions about the insidious government regulation that rewarded informing on your neighbors, coworkers and family members was detailed. The stories of other refugees she met along the way was eye-opening. I had never before considered North Korea in that light and can never return to ignorance again. The Girl with Seven Names was a powerful story that everyone should read in order to understand the complexity of North Korea just a little bit.