This is a biography of Hyeonseo Lee that was selected by one of my book clubs. I don’t usually read biography’s or autobiography’s, not because they aren’t worth reading but simply because I prefer fiction and fantasy. I struggled with other biography’s and was dreading having to finish this one by the deadline. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I finished this book.
Hyeonseo was born in North Korea and lived a life that many people would consider backwards. Her descriptions on her schooling and the requirements of not only the adults, but the children as well are astounding. She describes the murals in the elementary schools of North Koreans killing Americans, Japanese and South Korean soldiers; how the teacher’s lessons are focused on creating the image that Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il were the saviors of North Korea and that there are informers everywhere who will turn you in to the authorities for even the slightest offense. I did not realize that North Korea has a caste system, they call it a songbun, that limits an entire family’s options of marriage, education and career. If one person in your family breaks a law, not only will he/she be punished, but the parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents as well. It’s amazing at how quickly and how well the regime established a system of fear and oppression.
As I was reading Hyeonseo’s story, I had to constantly remind myself that this happened recently. The world that she lived in while in North Korea is so bleak, it’s hard to imagine this happening right now with all the advances in technology and people’s awareness of other cultures. This read like a fiction story, with her daring escapes in multiple countries and the struggles that she had to overcome. I was impressed with her ability to adapt and learn how to blend into a new country so easily. It’s amazing to think that she lived through all of this and she was only in her twenties.
I think that this is a great book that people should read so that they can learn not only what is going on in North Korea, but to learn what really happens in a dictatorship. There are so many freedoms that people take for granted, and it’s shocking to see a nation living under so much oppression. Hopefully this book will not only enlighten you to their struggles but you’ll also take stock and be grateful for your freedoms.