The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee (tr. David John)

a photo of Hyeonseo Lee after her escape

a nutshell: this gripping memoir by a North Korean defector/activist tells the story of how she escaped and later guided her family out on a 2,000-mile trip through China & Laos

a line: “I grew up singing a song called ‘Nothing to Envy’. I felt very proud. I thought my life in North Korea was normal, even though when I was seven years old, I saw my first public execution”

an image: Hyeonseo Lee portrays a world in which the law was upside-down; by forcing North Koreans to be good citizens, she says the state made accusers & informers of everyone – and while drug-dealing is seen as a serious crime in most countries, in this world it’s a risk, like unauthorised parking

a thought: this is a mesmerising memoir with some devastating scenes; the author is brilliant at capturing the sad, the shocking, and … the humourous – describing how she got sick of noodles and needed the English word for bab (rice), she writes of the back-and-forth as she keeps saying: “Got it. Lice.”

a fact: after reading, take a look at this heart-warming reunion with a kind stranger who supported the family to escape

want to read The Girl with Seven Names? visit here

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of Butterflies against blue sky and sea

a nutshell: reaching from 1938 to 1994, this utterly compelling novel reimagines the lives of the four Mirabal sisters (‘The Butterflies’, or ‘Las Mariposas‘) – symbols of hope & defiance during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic

a line: “I couldn’t stand the idea of being locked up in any one life”

an image: an extract from Mate’s fictionalised diary describes a current running among the women prisoners as like an invisible needle stitching them together into the glorious, free nation they’re becoming

a thought: there are so so many thoughts I could share here, but suffice to say that this was for me the most moving book I’ve encountered in my project so far and my life was essentially put on pause while I was reading it

a fact: after the author’s father was involved in an underground plot cracked by the the Dominican Republic’s notorious Military Intelligence Service, Alvarez’s family fled for New York City in August 1960 – less than four months before the murder of the three Mirabel sisters, who were members of that underground

want to read In the Time of the Butterflies? visit here

PS: as part of my human rights work I was involved in promoting the 16 Days of Activism a few months ago, yet it was only at the very end of the novel that I remembered this annual campaign begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – a day that commemorates the legacy of the Mirabal sisters.