The Girl with Seven Names

I’ve noticed a pattern amongst the stories of oppressed people I have read (and the ones I’ve lived/seen firsthand): family is everything. When you have nothing else, you have your family. When your family is stripped or severed, you have the memory and the drive to reconnect with them or build anew. Reading a work like Alex Haley’s Roots is so similar to reading this one, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Loo. The book reveals much about North Korea that I never knew, but most importantly, highlights the way that family trumps all. That’s probably why an oppressive institution will first try to destroy the family unit.

It’s clear that in North Korea, the method employed by the regime has been to weaken and divide the family unit while promoting a reliance on and trust in the state. The Girl with Seven Names makes joins the stories spanning across time and place that make it even more clear that no oppressive system can destroy every family or aspiration for one.

Honestly, as politically and socially aware as I am, I did not even realize how painfully little I knew about what was happening behind the closed borders of North Korea. This book was illuminating in so many ways; the reader learns of daily life in North Korea, the education system, the way that international happenings impacted regular North Koreans, and the every-day indoctrinations and suppressants that dictate how everyone lives and interacts.

I look at this book, which centers around a young woman’s struggle to reunite with her family (and herself) after being forced away from North Korea for reasons that seem arbitrary and silly to those who do not walk a tightrope with a oppressive regime to keep themselves alive. This book looks to me like many other stories of people escaping oppression and repression, but I enjoyed the voice and perspective of the author, who makes the reader feel almost as if the wool of North Korean propaganda is slowly being pulled back from our eyes as it was hers.

If any of that interests you, I’d recommend this read.


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