Category Archives: Kindle

The Girl With Seven Names – A review

The Girl With Seven Names – A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee

25362017

North Korea as a country has intrigued me for some time. I heard about books like Camp 15 but was apprehensive to take them up because I find them too disturbing. I couldn’t sleep for days after I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas.

The Girl With Seven Names is the story of a young girl Hyeonseo told in the first person and it proved just right. It is a simple read, fast paced and easy and gives a first hand description of life in North Korea without getting too grim.

The story

Interestingly, it isn’t a passion for freedom or poverty that pushes Hyeonseo to run away from her country. She comes from a relatively privileged family that has managed to stay on the right side of the regime for the longest time. She lives in a border town  on the banks of River Yalu with China just across it. In winters when the river froze over, all one had to do was avoid the border security guards of both countries and walk across it and one could be in a different country.

Hyeonseo love for adventure prompts her to take that walk. With a month to go for her 18th birthday she decides to secretly visit her uncle in China. Unfortunately her disappearance is discovered and she cannot come back. Leaving the country in North Korea is counted as defection and if caught, brings severe repercussions not just for the defector but also for his/her entire family.

The book then on traces her struggle to establish a legal identity and make a home for herself first in China and then in South Korea, living and travelling without an ID or a passport. Hyeonseo starts out as a rather naive, impulsive, headstrong girl. The book traces her growth into a smart and courageous woman as she struggles to find her feet and keep her family together.

What I loved about the book

North Korea sounds straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to imagine that this is not fiction nor from an era long gone. The book is set in the eighties and the nineties.

The leaders wield absolute power. The complete insulation of people from the outside world, the constant threat from the government, the constant worry of being informed upon by neighbours and teachers, the entire education system pandering to the government including changing the history of the country – All of this is hard to believe.

And yet how would anyone who isn’t exposed to any other way, even know that this wasn’t the only way? And so people accept it, get used to it and even miss it when they’re out of the country. Her mom and brother are reluctant to leave even when they have the option to do so.

Hyeonseo also talks of the challenges of settling down in a capitalist country which is  something I had never thought of. The book turned out to be a very enlightening read. It talks about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

Last thought: I’d say go for it.

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This is how I was kindled

 

Kindle

I was brought up as an old-school reader – the kind who uses bookmarks and book covers, the kind that goes to a bookshop, browses at leisure, makes his pick, then sits and samples it before finally putting it in his shopping basket and heading for the checkout counter. I love the good solid feel of books in my hand;  and while I may still be debating whether I like scent of an old book better or that of crackling fresh new pages straight off the press, one thing I’m sure of – I love books – the physical kind.

Then I was gifted a kindle – yeah that destroyer of all things ‘reading’ the way I knew it. It was a gift of love so I accepted it with an open mind and putting aside my prejudices I sternly told myself to give it a fair try.

I browsed through the tiny device. I marvelled a bit at how light it felt. I fiddled around with the brightness and the font size till I got it exactly the way I wanted. I found I could connect to Goodreads and Amazon, a miracle it seemed. I could look up meanings of words if the WiFi was switched on. What’s better (or worse?), the kindle editions were inexpensive, sometimes crazily so. And that’s how slowly, ever so slowly, I was sucked into the web of technology.

I’d read a book review, like it and within minutes I would be clicking onto Amazon, paying for it online and revelling in the henceforth unbelievable luxury of curling up with my read right away. Ah the thrill of impulse buying!

Yet, there are days when I miss my old friends – books as they used to be – the impatient rustle of pages as I whizzed through a Da Vinci Code or the languid turning of a Marquez as I marvelled at the beauty of its prose. And the smell..how I miss that musty aroma. Maybe they’ll learn to bottle it up one day and then I could spray it on my kindle and find solace.

The coming generations will probably not know of it at all and stop missing it completely. That thought makes me a little sad. But then The old order changeth yielding place to new. It will happen sooner rather than later.

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Are you a Kindle user? If not, do you find it tempting – this idea of carrying a hundred books in one tiny device? Or are you a fan of books the old-fashioned way?