An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world's most ruthless and secretive dictatorships - and the story of one woman's terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.
As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom, and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life.
Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed, surely her country could not be, as she had been told "the best on the planet".
Aged 17, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be 12 years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities - involving imprisonment, torture and possible public execution.
Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. And 12 years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.
This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo's escape from the darkness into the light but also of her coming of age and education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life - not once but twice - first in China then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.
"The most riveting TED talk ever." (Oprah)
"This is a powerful story of an escapee from North Korea. In the hallowed meeting rooms of the United Nations in New York, ambassadors from North Korea recently sought to shout down stories like this. But these voices will not be silenced. Eventually freedom will be restored. History will vindicate Hyeonseo Lee and those like her for the risks they ran so that their bodies and their minds could be free. And so that we could know the truth." (Michael Kirby, chair of the UN commission on human rights abuses in North Korea)
"When I first met Hyeonseo Lee, the unflinching manner in which she told her story was inspirational. She experienced hunger, coldness, fear, terror, threats and pursuit. All this she had to endure, simply for being a North Korean refugee. But the one thing that she held on to was her humanity, ever stronger as she continuously sublimated her hardships into hope. This is a sad and beautiful story of a girl who could not even keep her name, yet overcome all with the identity of what it is to be human." (Jang Jin-sung, author of Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea)
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SPOILERS: Since living in South Korea (ROK), I've grown an affinity for books on North Korea (DPRK). This is a decent book on the subject. It doesn't give a lot of detail on life in North Korea during the "difficult times" but the author describes scenes and memories no child should.
Even Lee's escape from North Korea isn't a big deal. She simply tells a border guard she's going across. It was completely unplanned. Her escape from China to Shanghai was also uneventful. Lee just takes a flight. There are others who have much more grueling escapes. However, there is no doubt that it is an absolute challenge to do what she did and there is nothing to take away from that!
SPOILER: The author describing the man that hit his head after riding under the train and cracking his skull; just unimaginable but so nonchalant for the people at the time.
Distracting, not researched
How far would you go for family?
The British accent on Dunn's performance is somewhat distracting as an American listener. It is very strong and nothing that I would expect a North Korean to sound like. It slightly takes away from the story.
The other issue is that the producers must of have done little research into how to pronounce the names in the book. Having lived in Seoul, Shanghai and traveled through Laos, dated a Laotian; it is mind-numbing to listen to half of these simple pronunciations.
I am no stickler for languages, but the names are so simple. The reader even gets the author's name wrong; pronouncing it Yeonseo with a "y" instead of Hyeonseao with an "hy". I mean: that's the author's name, how do you not research how to say that?!
Other names that I can remember that were pronounced incorrectly: Pyongyang, Harbin (city in China), Laos( The country had no "s" sound, although the author pronounced the language as "Lao" instead of Laotian, the normal nomenclature, but mispronounced the country.) Vientiane (The capital of Laos). She did however pronounce Shanghai correctly, perhaps because of her British accent of a short "ah" sound to shang.
All of that really took me out of the story from time to time. The author also mocks male characters, usually "bad" ones that are Korean or Chinese military guards or police. These accents are borderline cockney and just bizarre. She also mocks an American boyfriend of Lee's and that is just awful.
So, in short, at least as an American, the strong British accent just really seems wrong and does take away from the story from time to time.
I hardly ever give a book 5 stars and this is my first review but this book is unbelievable, I could barely put it down. This book is a page turner and even though you know the outcome, your heart pounds as you read her journey and that of her family. It is sad at times but overall, an empowering story of strength.