Hyeonseo Lee : The Girl With Seven Names

The Girl With Seven Names, A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee tells us the harsh reality of the North Korea and especially the dark truth of the  Kim-dynasty which is ruling over there with an iron fist.


So, what comes to your mind when you hear, read or see the word, North Korea.


The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

Hyeonseo Lee, The Girl With Seven Names


Let’s assume that you might think that it’s a country in East Asia or one of the few remaining communist countries left in the world or might be something else.


Although, some of you may have heard the term, ‘Axis of evil’. It’s one of the famous epithets given to few countries by the former president of the United States of America, George W Bush.


Axis of evil consists of Iran, Iraq and North Korean. Albeit, with time Iraq was removed from that list and at present only Iran and North Korean are there in this so called axis of evil.


And North Korea deserved to be there. Now, we will come to the protagonist of this book, Hyeonseo Lee.


Who is Hyeonseo Lee?

Hyeonseo Lee is a North Korean defector and currently the citizen of South Korea. She is one of those luckiest people who somehow managed to escape from the brutal regime of the Kim dynasty in North Korea.


In fact, Hyeonseo Lee is not her real name. It’s the name she gave it to herself.


Early Life of Hyeonseo Lee :-

Hyeonseo Lee was born and brought up in Hyesan, on the banks of Yalu river, the ancient river boundary between China and North Korea.


She is from a well-to-do family who has a high ‘Songbun’, especially in the context of North Korea.


Being from a financially stable and a high ‘Songbun’ means a lot in North Korea.


We’ll come to the Songbun and its importance later.


Her father was in the armed forces who was tortured by the regime and later he died, and mother a clever woman who knew how to manage People in a country like North Korea.


As a child, Hyeonseo didn’t face any hardships because of her father and mother. Food was available, safety was there. It’s like a treasure trove in a totalitarian nation like North Korea.


Like every other child she also attended the school. But, wait, we are not talking about some normal country, where children will learn about the world and all. This is North Korea, a country which can be considered as a separate planet.


Indoctrination begins from the elementary school itself in North Korea. Worshipping of the Kim dynasty is what they learn throughout their life.


The so called Great leader Kim Il- Sung and the Dear Leader, Kim Jong il is like God to the people of North Korea.


You can stop breathing but you can’t say a word about the Kim dynasty otherwise you will be jailed or will be send to the gulag for all your life.


In fact, it’s mandatory from elementary school to attend Public execution. Hyeonseo Lee saw her first public execution when she was only seven years old.


This is the system which they have devised to control North Korea. They instill fear inside their hearts and minds of the Kim dynasty. That’s why they have controlled North Korea and its people for almost seven decades.


Now, we will talk about the ‘Songbun’ system of North Korea and its importance.


What is Songbun?

Songbun is a caste system that operates in North Korea. A family is classified as loyal, wavering or hostile, depending on what the father’s family was doing at the time just before, during and after the founding of the state in 1948.


Descended of workers and peasants who have fought on the right side of the Korean war are classified as loyal.


Those people whose forefathers were landlords or officials during the Japanese colonial period (1910-45) and those who’ve fled to South Korea during the Korean war (1950-53) are classified as hostile.


People of high ‘Songbun’ can study in Government Colleges and can reach to the top.


But, People of low Songbun will remain at the bottom of hierarchy forever their lives.


 Hyeonseo’s Journey into unknown :-

Hyeonseo was a curious and stubborn child. And this curiosity of her led into something which she never thought or planned.


One day, Hyeonseo decided to clandestinely visits her relatives in China. As she was from a border town and her mother was into contraband items with her Chinese dealers. So, she thought why not.


So, after having the dinner she left her home. At that time she was only a teenager. Although, she managed to cross the border safely and reached China to her relatives.


While she was enjoying herself in China. One day, out of the blue she received a call from her mother who told her that something wrong happened there and she can’t come back.


And this adventure of few days changed the course of her life forever.


Days passed into months and months into years. She was living with her uncle and aunt. But, they arranged a marriage for her. And she ran away not only from their home but she also thought that she was not ready yet for marriage.


A Girl With No Identity :-

After leaving the home of her uncle and aunt. Hyeonseo Lee changed her name again. In fact, the girl with seven names means the seven names which she used in different circumstances.


She started working in a new city of China as a waitress. And she worked hard. In fact, she was caught by the police while living there illegally but somehow she managed to convince them that she was a korean-Chinese not a North Korean.


Although, she missed her mother and younger brother a lot. But, she knew that going to North Korea is impossible for her now.


After living and working in China for several years, Hyeonseo Lee learnt about South Korea and how she can go there and asked for asylum.


One important thing, South Korea considers the people of North Korea as their citizens. And whoever managed to reach Seoul will be given citizenship and some monetary help for their better future.


So, Hyeonseo not only managed to reach Seoul. But, she did it very smartly. Majority of the North Koreans who fled from their country reach South Korea either through land route through smugglers or some other ways.


But, Hyeonseo reached Seoul by using an aeroplane. She boarded the plane by using her Chinese passport and landed on Seoul and declared herself that she was a North Korean.


Welcome to Seoul :-

When the South Korean authorities became sure that she was a North Korean indeed. They granted her citizenship and a residence in Seoul.


When she was in Seoul, she decided to bring her family to South Korea. But, it was not an easy feat.


But, somehow she convinced her mother to cross the border and reach China like she did.


Hyeonseo’s younger brother accompanied their mother to the border because he decided to live in North Korea and marry his girlfriend.


But, life is unpredictable. Hyeonseo met her mother and younger brother near the Chinese border. The trio were together after so-long. An emotional family reunion for them.


Because of some issues Hyeonseo’s brother realised that he can’t go back otherwise he would be in danger or worst killed mercilessly. So, with a heavy heart he also decided to reach Seoul illegally.


Although, her family had to face some serious troubles while reaching to Seoul. They were jailed by the authorities of Laos (A landlocked nation in Southeast Asia) when they were trying to reach the South Korean embassy there.


But, this courageous woman managed to make sure that they reach safely to Seoul. And after several months of separation they were finally together again as a family.


Hyeonseo’s story is surreal. Although, she is lucky that she made it alive and shared with us about the reality of the Kim dynasty. But, many like her never made it because either they were caught or killed mercilessly by the brutal regime of North Korea.


And I’ll conclude with these words of the author of this book –

‘If the North Korean People acquired an awareness of their rights, of individual freedom and democracy, The game would be up for the regime in Pyongyang.’


I hope you like this, Thanks for Reading, Jai Hind.


My Ratings : ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)


Order your copy from here-

Yash Sharma

Namaste reader, My name is Yash, and books for me are like a medicine, which removes my ignorance and also helps me in behaving more like a human.Though I live in the world’s largest democracy, India, but when I look around, I realized that this democratic nation of mine has turned into a kind of feudal oligarchy or kleptocracy, where people from a particular community or I would say particular surname has hijacked this democracy, and the political parties in India has turned itself into a kind of family enterprises where the family members are the only shareholders. And I want to change this, and books are a weapon which is helping me, so that I can help others and my nation.Shukriya for reading this Thought of mine.

42 Responses

  1. Aishwarya says:

    This left me numb for a few moments. I can only thank God and count my blessings instead of complaining about my futile hardships which are nothing compared to what people face in N.Korea. I strongly condemn social discrimination in any form but something as horrible as SOGABUN gave me chills,can’t imagine what it would feel Like to be ineligible to study in a particular college bcz of one’s caste.
    There were many instances of bravery and mindfulness which I think are the silver lining of this cloud.
    Keep it up Yash👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼

  2. Namita says:

    That made for an interesting read, makes me want to actually read the book.

  3. Monya says:

    Thnks for let us know abt North korea..M glad..😊😊

  4. Ritika Jain says:

    An authoritarian and totalitarian state – North Korea
    Dynasty which rules from generations and may be they continue to rule till generations- The Dictators,Kim’s
    The ones whose free will is suppressed- The People.
    When they have no “Constitution which provides them with Article-21” which is the heart and soul of our country.
    We are definitely privileged when we live in world’s largest democracy where we have the right to think, act , peacefully protest and bring our government for discussion and deliberation.
    It’s very difficult to be a part of country where people are deprived of basic rights and no social good is done to them..when they are mere subjects in fact puppets to the rulers.
    And getting out of this country takes guts and not only she managed to free herself but her family too from the shackles.
    Girls like her are an inspiration.
    And the way you have written this is so good.
    Your systematic writing makes this read even more interesting.
    Thanks for an enlightening article.
    Keep doing the good work👏👏👏

    • Thanks, Ritika for this mini-article-cum-comment. The way you’ve analysed and compared it with the world’s largest democracy is laudable.

      Although, North Korea is a police state where everything is controlled from the top. But, we also have to keep in mind that sometimes in democracies too some megalomaniacs occupies power by using rhetoric.

      That’s why staying vigilant is a must for every sane Human who loves democracy and basic human rights.

      And thanks again for giving ur time and going through this article. I’m glad that you liked it and found it worth reading.

  5. Prabal Singh Nain says:

    My brother now this is something different you wrote…..I like your choice of picking different topics…well written brother….now I can say that our indian culture is best as compared to many countries….a girl with 7 names under 7 different situations….in india we have also different names but not according to situation but according to character and behaviour of a person….once again go ahead buddy and give us more awesome articles to read…🤟🤟

  6. Kate says:

    I end up with many realizations after reading this kind of article. I’m grateful that I live in a democratic country which everyone has a freedom to do the goals in life without a second thought.
    And thank you for sharing this to me Yash.

  7. Sinthiya Oishi says:

    At first thanks for this beautiful article. I was waiting for this kind of article. U always try to write something different and hope that u will write something new in future. Keep it up bhaiya✌️

  8. Saundarya says:

    What a wonderful “pictorial presentation of the pages”! Reading this was like watching a movie but unlike a fictional movie it is a hard to believe reality!
    Till date I hv never come across a writer from North Korea but thanks to you for bringing to us what we could never ever think of.
    The girl with seven names doesn’t only present a determinant attitude for survival but also about how to hold on to hope!
    I would definitely read this book.
    Thanks for sharing this! Keep writing

  9. Bika says:

    It never occurred to me before, if you wanted to take this theme. I had read several articles about North Korea before. And all of them tell about a cruel life there. This teaches us to always be more grateful for the life we have. Keep it up Yash

  10. Q U E E N says:

    I like k-drama. And watched it. Her story was almost similar to “Crush landing on you”. But anyways, it breaks my heart that some people have to go through this kind of stuff. It happens in Mexico-USA crossing borders and Syria… This things can’t be avoided and it’s undeniable that it is happening up to this date… anyways, great work.

  11. Irene says:

    Great work.. totally worth reading..
    This is one of the reasons why I love reading books.
    Thanks for introducing it to me.

  12. Nara says:

    Your writing is good. the information provided is very clear as if you have lived there. I like it

  13. Ristia says:

    Really very inspiring .. Hopefully in the future we can read more articles like these from you. Keep up the good work, Yash.

  14. manasvi says:

    wow it is so inspiring!!!!!!

  15. Anil samadhiya says:

    Awesome article bro , i read something different and a great article .
    The story of Hyeonseo Lee is different and never heard this name .
    Great work man keep it up .
    I love the hardwork you are doing and helping people to find out something different and knowledgeable .
    Keep it up .👍👍👍👍

  16. Ell casandra says:

    I love this article about North Korea. Keep up the good work, Yash.

  17. Madelene says:

    Interesting article about North korea ….always go for what you want…
    Make your goals a priority. The ending is good since the girl made it .. Thanks Yash. Keep it up, you are doing well.

  18. Hana says:

    Nice story, so inspiring. I love the way you wrote, Yash. Keep up the good work.
    Your website is full of knowledge and good literature.

  19. Niana says:

    I learnt a lot about North Korea and its regime after reading this article of yours. Keep marching ahead.

  20. H a r u says:

    It was a great read, Yash. Although I feel bad that they have to go through such for freedom. Keep it up! 😁

  21. Grace says:

    Nice one. Thank you for the enlightenment.

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