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

4.40  ·  Rating details ·  76,654 ratings  ·  6,961 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 (first published October 14th 2014)
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Lynn YES! I agree with the other answer. I've taught middle school. Definitely appropriate and and eye-opener. …moreYES! I agree with the other answer. I've taught middle school. Definitely appropriate and and eye-opener. (less)
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 (Ch…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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Average rating 4.40  · 
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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
Sung 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
Miranda Reads
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook

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
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 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
Merphy Napier
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
This woman is brave and inspiring and getting a look into North Korea and her life growing up there, as well as her escape was incredibly difficult to read but I'm so glad I got the change to hear her story

Content warnings (view spoiler)
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
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it

Hyeonseo Lee

This is the true story of Hyeonseo Lee, a young woman whose escape from North Korea to South Korea - by way of China - was a daring and dangerous adventure. During her extended journey, Hyeonseo had to deal with liars, thieves, extortionists, and gangsters, some of whom were crooked cops/guards and some of whom were government personnel. But Hyeonseo was also assisted by extraordinarily kind souls, including friends, relatives, and a VERY generous stranger.

Hyeonseo grew up in northe
Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

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THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES is an amazing memoir written by a woman who defected from North Korea into China and then, later, into South Korea. The book starts with her family life in North Korea, which could be uncomfortable but was still livable. Then her father was arrested and later died, and the infamous famine following the collapse of the Soviet Union made things very difficult for her family. They moved several times, until finally
Darryl Greer
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
North Korea, a country less than a fifth the size of Texas, is probably the most secretive, yet most fascinating country on the planet. According to the CIA’s World Fact Sheet, it is one of the world’s most centrally directed and least open economies which faces stagnation, underinvestment and chronic shortages, largely as a result of large-scale missile and nuclear programs. Human rights abuses are rife and every aspect of the North Korean’s life is monitored and organised by The State. They ar ...more
Tina Haigler
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"My name is Hyeonseo Lee."

In all honesty, this book is a light read compared to other tales of leaving North Korea. The author must be one of the luckiest people alive; I can't imagine it going that well for anyone else. It makes for one of those harrowing stories that stresses you out (but only a little) because you know it turns out all right in the end.

I am not, by any means, trying to downplay her experience; it must've been terrifying. Personally, I would've been an absolute wreck, caught a
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
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
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
enqi ♡
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
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!
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
Her experiences as a North Korean and an expatriate are eye-opening. I had some questions about the reliability of the narrative.
Might have to find some other memoir to compare with it.
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
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
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
April (Aprilius Maximus)
“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.”

representation: Korean (own voices)

[trigger warnings are listed at the bottom of this review and may contain spoilers]


Definitely recommend this one if you can handle the subject matter. I've read so many books on North Korea and everything about that country STILL baffles me and makes me want to punch somethi
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
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
Nov 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5stars
“It is mandatory from elementary school to attend public executions. Often classes would be cancelled so students could go.”

migrating illegally to another country to start a new life is hard enough, can't even imagine how hard it is to escape from North Korea. can never go back and contacting your relatives that still live there is extremely dangerous.

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 ...more
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 th
My nerves are shot. Gone. Bye bye. Hope to have them back again some time.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story, a memoir written by Hyeonseo Lee, details the decade plus of efforts, both her own and many others, after defecting from North Korea to obtain a legally free status and life in South Korea.

There's literally no way for me to talk about this book without spoilers, other than to say, if we were listening to her inner monologue during this journey to freedom, it migh
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hyeonseo Lee who writes of her life while in North Korea, her escape to China, and her immigration to South Korea writes “The Girl With Seven Names”. I am not a fan of Memoirs, yet I found her story fascinating. If you are curious about the North Korea culture and how North Koreans love their country, you will enjoy this story.

Ms Lee describes the caste system in North Korea. She describes crimes and punishment in North Korea. The most heinous crime in North Korea is not paying proper homage to
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
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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

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