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

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith)

a nutshell: this three-part novella from South Korea tells the starkly powerful story of a woman named Yeong-hye who takes a quiet yet explosive stand against her oppressive existence

a line: “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

an image: the enigma of the Mongolian mark sustains what was, for me, the most engrossing chapter

a thought: one theme that runs through the entire novella is the idea that everyone is fundamentally unknowable – even to those with whom every day is spent

a fact: in 1997 Han Kang wrote a short story (‘The Fruit of My Woman’) about a woman literally turning into a plant, then reworked the image in The Vegetarian in what she called “a darker and fiercer way”


want to read The Vegetarian? visit here