As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed, surely her country could not be, as she had been told “the best on the planet”?
Escape from North Korea
Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.
She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities – involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution.
Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.
Hyeonseo Lee tells her extraordinary story in her memoir The Girl with Seven Names that has become a global bestseller. She will be at Byron Writers Festival in conversation with Jane Hutcheon on Friday 3 August and will take part in the session Memoir: Making a Place for Myself on Saturday 4 August with Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al Sharif and Egyptian-born Anne Aly, who is Australia’s first female federal parliamentarian of Muslim faith.
Festival tickets at www.byronwritersfestival.com.
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