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The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  34,213 ratings  ·  3,533 reviews
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 totalitarian regime. Her home on the border with China
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 2nd 2015 by William Collins
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Lynn YES! I agree with the other answer. I've taught middle school. Definitely appropriate and and eye-opener.
Sophie I'm afraid you are mistaken. She began to learn Chinese characters at school at age 12 (Chapter 9). Her father encouraged her to learn calligraphy…moreI'm afraid you are mistaken. She began to learn Chinese characters at school at age 12 (Chapter 9). Her father encouraged her to learn calligraphy (Ch. 9), but she "had no spoken Mandarin at all" (Ch. 17). She learned it in China (Ch. 21).

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4.45  · 
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 ·  34,213 ratings  ·  3,533 reviews

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Hyeonseo Lee
Jul 26, 2015 marked it as to-read  ·  (Review from the author)
Thanks to everyone who voted in the 2015 #GoodreadsChoice Awards. Of course, I was hoping to win, but I'm still honored that I came in 4th place out of many good books.

Wow!!! I never thought my memoir would make it to the FINAL round of the 2015 #GoodreadsChoice Award. Only ten books are left. Thank you so much to everyone who has read my book and supported me.

A huge honor.
The Girl With Seven Names is nominated for a #GoodreadsChoice
Award for Best
Miranda Reads
In North Korea the only laws that truly matter, and for which extreme penalties are imposed if they are broken, touch on loyalty to the Kim dynasty.
Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

Hyeonseo Lee grew up as a loyal and happy citizen of North Korea - the greatest country on earth.

Lee grew up believing that her leaders were gods - that they can be in two places at once, that stars appeared in the sky when they were born, that they (single-handedly) led their people to victory.

Sure, food was a bit s
Sungeun Jin
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full Disclosure: I am a South Korean and I have encountered with a number of readings, TED-talks, Youtube videos on life in North Korea, testimonies of North Korean defectors on horrific lives in our neighbor country. However, I found this book intriguing, unique and inspiring.

What Hyeonseo offers in this book is quite different from other N.Korean defector's story. She's from a family with high class, had a relatively comfortable life to North Korean standard, and did not leave her country and
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
By the time she turned 29, Hyeonseo Lee had spent a decade living on the run and in hiding. She had escaped a brothel, survived a kidnapping, run away from a loveless engagement, and changed her name four times. She was attacked on the street, robbed, conned, and arrested more than once.

She is one of the lucky ones.

Hyeonseo Lee was born in North Korea under a different name, to a family with good songbun (NK's caste system). But even being one of the lucky ones in North Korea means that Lee witn
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea
What an interesting story and its so hard to believe that in this day and age that a whole nation of 25.5 Million people could be so cut off from the rest of the world and its leader could controll and dictate everything about peoples lives from birth to death.
I had read a couple of books on North Korea over the years and came across The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story and another book which I felt were both worth reading.

This book is easy to read and Hyeonseo Lee is certa
Julia Graf
Nov 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I did enjoy this but I also feel like she made a lot of really incredibly dumb choices that really made no sense. For example she stayed with relatives in China for 2 whole years (!!!) and didn't think of maybe using that time to get a job to save money, or to learn a vocation? Then she runs away penniless on the spur of the moment and has no plan of what to do. You had 2 years to think about it and relied on the kindness of distant relatives to support you, but you didn't think ahead of what to ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you're like me and haven't read much about past and present living conditions in Northern Korea , you'll learn a lot here.This simply written book follows the courageous journey of a 17 year old girl who will need to change her name seven times after she defects from North Korea and reinvents her life both in China and later South Korea. Written to read like a novel, it will certainly give you a greater appreciation of the freedoms we often take for granted, while not weighing you down with m ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trish by: jeanniebeh
I listened to this remarkable story, read by Josie Dunn and published by HarperCollins Publishers UK, with a degree of disbelief. Certain parts of the story agree with what I’d learned already about the lives of North Koreans, the general trend of their escapes, and their orientation in South Korea as refugees. The author was young, seventeen, when she decided to cross the frozen Yalu in winter and go see her relatives in Shenyang, China.

She’d had no idea where Shenyang was—that I actually coul
enqi ☁️✨ kell maresh lovesite
once again this book has made me realise how privileged and fortunate i am. it's dealt no less of a hard blow to my heart and i'm really a mess now. her autobiography was wild and moving and heartbreaking and my entire worldview has been altered in the course of a few hours.

i'll write a full review.... in a few days
Patti Biley
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A riveting tale I won’t forget. Even though she and her family live in relative comfort (by North Korean standards) owing to her father’s military career, Hyeonseo’s curiosity drives her to take the risk of crossing the river to China alone to get a taste of the outside world. Once she has left her country, however, it becomes clear that her life will be in danger if she tries to return. So, she is forced to rely on her own wits to survive the dangers and challenges that come her way in her year ...more
Short  Reviews
Oct 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was definitely the best autobiography I've read to date. Hyeonseo is a brave exceptional woman who has been through hell and back. The loyalty and love she has for her family was so lovely to read.
I can't even form a proper review- no review will describe how much I loved reading this book!
Sharon Metcalf
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
The Girl with Seven Names: Escape From North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee is what reading is all about for me. Learning something of the world, of the lives of others and gaining an appreciation for just how fortunate I am to have been born in this time and place with the freedoms and luxuries often taken for granted. Hyonseo Lee's memoir tells of the complete ideological indoctrination of the North Korean people. She detailed the way the brainwashing begins from the time of their birth and never lets ...more
Apratim Mukherjee
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is the first time I read a North Korean defector's story.I had read about the oppressive regime but the book is an eye opener of all sorts.Though written like a thriller novel,the book tells a lot of suffering that the North Koreans go through in their perilous journey during their defection.The treatment of these defectors in China is a matter of concern for the international community.
The book deserves 4 stars ...1 deduction for too much propaganda material in the beginning and sensationa
This is an amazing book. You may go into it knowing that it's written by a young lady who leaves North Korea in search of a better life, but in truth, it is so much more than that.

Hyeonseo successfully made it out of North Korea and lived in China for 10 years illegally. The book speaks of her life in North Korea and you may be surprised that in many ways it is worse than what we hear on the news, but I guarantee you will be surprised at her continued love for her homeland and her longing at tim
Mariah Roze
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book has been on my To-Read list for a long time. I was so excited when I finally got it from the library. I highly suggest this book to everyone. It is such an eye-opener and so fascinating. What North Koreans are going through to become free is so tragic.

"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
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
L.A. Starks
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An exceptionally illuminating book into life inside North Korea, and the risks in escaping it, from a brave and talented young woman
Alissa Patrick
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Being an American, I knew a little about the hardships in North Korea, as well as how crazy Kim Jong-Il was (& now Kim Jong-Un). But reading this memoir of a North Korean defector's account just floored me. It definitely opened my eyes
Jeannette Nikolova
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

Country: North Korea

This is the second book that I have read, which tells the stories of North Korean defectors, the first being Nothing to Envy.

I debated with myself whether I need another book for my book world trip, but what set my mind was the idea, that while Nothing to Envy is a story told through a "middle man", The Girl with Seven Names is an autobiography. Ultimately, now I can say that the difference between the two books is mostly in the wa
Nov 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating look inside a place so shrouded in secrecy. I've watched a couple of documentaries about North Korea on Netflix, and was shocked by the extent of indoctrination and how isolated the North Korean people are from knowledge of the world beyond their borders. This is the story of a young girl who had it pretty good in North Korea, comparatively speaking [the ludicrousness of that statement is illustrated by the fate of her father], but was starting to have some doubts and question ...more
This is the third book that I’ve read about North Korea. My favorite is still Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, and one that I highly recommend. “The Girl with Seven Names” is a close second. I could barely put this book down. It’s beautifully written, so moving, the type of book that you can’t stop thinking about.

Notice the framed pictures of the leaders inside this North Korean home. When couples get married, they’re given framed pictures with a specific cloth that must be used only for thos
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing

The Girl with Seven Names is a powerful, fascinating true story about a young girl who manages to escape from North Korea. She gives a very honest view of living in North Korea and her escape and later helping her mother and brother escape. I found myself feeling all the pain, the struggles and the fear that Hyeonsea felt. It also reveals the difficulties, for young and old to assimilate into a new culture. This is an intriguing account of an amazing young women.
Aug 17, 2015 rated it liked it
North Korea memoirs are always difficult. The stories of escape aren't yet so common as to be mundane (though perhaps we should hope for the day they are) but they're difficult to put into great prose.

Hyeonseo Lee tells of a remarkable upbringing in that reclusive country, although in her border town people seem to cross into China and back with surprising ease. Her escape story and life in China testifies to her grit and intelligence. And the story of how she adopted seven different names in he
Stephanie Anze
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"The girl with many names and no identity."

4.5 stars

Hyeonseo Lee was born in North Korea. In part because her parents held government jobs, she and her brother had a good life, all things considered. Except that Hyeonseo had a different name then and a different mindset, believing North Korea to be the greatest country in the world. A few weeks shy of turning eighteen, she decided to cross the border into China for a brief foray before she started college. Her brief foray turned into a ten year
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hyeonseo Lee grew up carefully cleaning picture frames for weekly inspections by government officials in white linen gloves. In her classroom and at her mother’s job, weekly meetings were conducted in which everyone in attendance had to confess their guilt about something and accuse others of the same. The leaders of her country were made heroes in fairy tales told by her kindergarten teachers. Those who did not cry enough when Kim Il-Sung died mysteriously disappeared. Even living on the border ...more
David Webber
Jul 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and much different than Escape from Camp 14 and other books which involved life in the prison camps. The author lived what many would have considered a fairly normal life in a North Korea border town with China. This story gives a picture of average life in North Korea, life for defectors in China, and life struggling with their new identity. Her family adds much drama to the story as well. A very good read to get a different perspective and to learn from Hyeonseo's incredible story.
Linda Hart
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this about a year ago but the story has not left me. I am in awe of the author, Hyeonseo Lee, and her determination at the age of 17 to escape from the oppressive regime of North Korea. Her story is compelling and I had trouble putting it down. It ends far better than the stories of most other defectors. This young woman showed incredible strength and perseverance not only in her escape to freedom, but finally successful she then had to face terrifying twists and turns in her new world. H ...more
Nov 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story of Hyeonseo and her family's escape from North Korea is fascinating and moving. The style itself is very matter-of-fact, and the writing isn't emotional. It doesn't have to be. The stories she tells are powerful enough on its own. Just when you think that Hyeonseo catches a break, something else terrible happens. But what really sets this book apart for me is the nuance - the fact that life is as difficult for a North Korean defector in China or South Korea as it is to remain in North ...more
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It was the story about woman who leave her country to satisfy her curiosity of the world. She can't go back because her country has a strict regulation that the people who leave will get a punishment when they go back. So she must take her own path in a new world live as an illegal settler and hide her identity as a North Korea citizen. She had go through a lot hardship in her way to get the freedom and had to change her names for a several times. She never know that it tooks a long way to final ...more
Caitlin Gutilla
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most informative, interesting, and mind boggling memoir I've ever read. North Korea is a mysterious country that blocks out all foreign powers to strengthen its own dictatorship. This story gives insight into North Koreans' every day lives and the grueling process of escaping the hunger, the brutality, and the control. I'm actually appalled at how the surrounding Asian countries treated the defectors seeking asylum from a known dictatorship. I don't know if it's still like that today ...more
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"Hyeonseo Lee brought the human consequences of global inaction on North Korea to the world's doorstep.... Against all odds she escaped, survived, and had the courage to speak out."

--Samantha Power, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations
“I hope you remember that if you encounter an obstacle on the road, don’t think of it as an obstacle at all… think of it as a challenge to find a new path on the road less traveled.” 50 likes
“After years in the Chinese workforce, I had developed an emotional attachment to money. My earnings were my hard work and long hours; my savings were comforts deferred.” 12 likes
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