Do you ever wonder what life's like in North Korea?
Having previously read "Without You, There is No Us" by Suki Kim, this firsthand account of a defector further piqued my interest of the unfamiliar.
The book starts slowly of Lee as a young girl growing up under the DPRK regime recounting her childhood experiences under the pretense of normalcy. This provides context to the later events unravelling in her adulthood.
Interestingly enough, Lee's hometown is located in Hyesan situated across Changbai, China and separated by its ancient border, the Yalu River, providing geographical advantage for escape and cross border smuggling.
Suspenseful and riveting, the book follows Lee spending a decade in China, eluding arrest and repatriation thus the seven names.
The next section of the book details her extraordinary return, leading her own family to freedom by taking them on a perilous journey across the borders of China and Laos, where defectors struggle with bureaucracy and coercion on their way to seeking asylum.
Lee reveals absurd facts of brainwashing, delusion and the occult of personality that the ruling Kim's have perpetuated by fear among her own people. For instance, she shares that the lines blur between the oppressor and the oppressed, with the inconceivable concept of human rights in the repressive state.
"To know that your rights are being abused, or that you are abusing someone else's, you first have to know that you have them, and what they are. But with no comparative information about societies elsewhere in the world, such awareness in North Korea cannot exist."
Lee also provides insightful thoughts of defectors' life after escape - their assimilation to the competitive, ultra-modern South Korean society whilst coping with their new identity.