The Girl With Seven Names Summary & Study Guide

Lee, Hyeonseo
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The Girl With Seven Names Summary & Study Guide Description

The Girl With Seven Names Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Girl With Seven Names by Lee, Hyeonseo .

In February 2013, Hyeonseo Lee tells her story on stage in the United States. As a North Korean defector, she has a complicated relationship with her home country. She hopes her story will help enlighten the world about the realities in North Korea and encourage activism.

The prologue flashes back to Hyeonseo’s childhood when her family home burned to the ground. Her father ran back into the burning building to save the family’s portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il. Despite this sign of loyaly, Hyeonseo’s father in already under government surveillance.

Chapter One starts with the story of how Hyeonseo’s parents met, her mother’s arranged marriage to another man, and Hyeonseo’s birth. Readers learn that Hyeonseo’s biological father is her mother’s first husband, whom she quickly divorced after giving birth. Hyeonseo’s parents are finally allowed to marry and Hyeonseo remembers a happy childhood and family life. Hyeonseo’s immediate and extended family enjoys high status and positions of privilege in North Korean society. Living in a border city called Hyesan, they have access to illicit trade and business opportunities which bring them additional wealth and opportunity.

Ideological indoctrination is omnipresent in Hyonseo’s childhood and teenage years. At first, she buys into and believes in North Korean propaganda. Her family’s wealth and privilege protect her from many of the harsh realities of average North Korean life. However, she is not shielded from witnessing public executions and life-ending famine. Hyeonseo’s childhood is kept busy with school, mandatory government run programs, and compulsory participation in the National Socialist Youth League.

Around the age of twelve, Hyeonseo learns the truth about her parentage. She struggles with her newly challenged sense of identity and her relationship with her father suffers. When Hyeonseo is fourteen, her father is captured and imprisoned by the government. He dies in hospital shortly thereafter.

As a teenager, Hyeonseo begins to express herself and her identity through individualistic fashion choices that get her in trouble at school. She begins to become disillusioned with aspects of North Korean society and takes an interest in the outside world through illicit music and television programs. Eventually, she decides she wants to see something of the world and plans a trip across the border into China.

In December 1997, at seventeen years old, Hyeonseo crosses the river between Hyesan and China with the help of a friend who is a border guard. She plans to visit family in Shenyang, China for a few days before coming home.

Hyeonseo quickly gets swept up in the pleasures of life in Shenyang and her four-day visit extends for weeks. Suspicion as to her whereabouts grows in North Korea and suddenly, her mother phones, telling her not to come home. A sudden reappearance of Hyeonseo will further rumors that she has been spending time illegally in China and the potential punishments may be severe. Hyeonseo has no choice but to stay in China as an illegal immigrant.

Hyeonseo’s family in Shenyang introduce her to a young man named Guen-soo and marriage between the two is planned. Guen-soo and his family promise to provide for Hyeonseo and conceal her identity but she cannot go through with the match. She strikes out on her own and finds a waitressing job to support herself. While living and working in Shenyang, Hyeonseo is found by police and brought in for questioning on suspicion of being a North Korean defector. Through a combination of intelligence and luck, she is able to convince them she is Chinese.

Nearly four years after defecting, Hyeonseo tries to get in touch with her family. She is able to reunite briefly with her brother on the Chinese border, but the broker she hired to help find her family sends his thugs after her to demand exorbitant payment. Unable to pay, Hyeonseo is kept prisoner by these men for several days until she calls her uncle in Shenyang for a loan.

After so many negative experiences. Hyeonseo decides to leave Shenyang and move to Shanghai. There she finds a way to buy a Chinese ID so she can get better employment and pass as a legal citizen. She sends a cellphone to her family in North Korea so she can speak to them regularly. Feeling like a permanent outsider in China, Hyeonseo begins to contemplate a move to South Korea. She believes she will feel more at home in her sister country and knows she will be granted legal citizenship there. In the meantime, she meets a South Korean man named Kim and they begin dating. Their growing relationship furthers Hyeonseo’s desire to emigrate.

After so many negative experiences. Hyeonseo decides to leave Shenyang and move to Shanghai. There she finds a way to buy a Chinese ID so she can get better employment and pass as a legal citizen. She sends a cellphone to her family in North Korea so she can speak to them regularly. Feeling like a permanent outsider in China, Hyeonseo begins to contemplate a move to South Korea. She believes she will feel more at home in her sister country and knows she will be granted legal citizenship there. In the meantime, she meets a South Korean man named Kim and they begin dating. Their growing relationship furthers Hyeonseo’s desire to emigrate.

Hyeonseo knows she can claim asylum if she can get to the airport in Seoul. She uses her Chinese ID to get a passport and books a trip with a transfer in Seoul. Upon landing in South Korea, instead of transferring planes, she finds an immigration officer and reveals her identity.

After claiming asylum, Hyeonseo goes through a long immigration and questioning process where she must prove she is truly North Korean. After a week of questioning she is granted South Korean citizenship. Hyeonseo is then sent to Hanawon where all North Korean immigrants to South Korea are given a crash course on how to survive in the capitalist world.

After two months in Hanawon, Hyeonseo moves to Seoul where she is reunited with Kim. However, she quickly realizes that her lack of education and family background put her at a disadvantage in North Korean society. She struggles to fit in in her new home and feels Kim’s family will never accept her. To further her prospects, she decides to enroll in university.

Hyeonseo then spends a great deal of time convincing her family to emigrate to South Korea as well. She finally succeeds in convincing her mother. Her brother, Min-ho, is determined to stay in North Korea with his fiancée but agrees to help their mother cross the border.

Hyeonseo and her family arrange a plan and meet on the bank of the same river where Hyeonseo defected many years before. Their happy reunion is tainted when they learn that Min-ho and his mother was seen crossing the border. Neither can ever return and Min-ho must now get to South Korea as well.

Hyeonseo’s mother and Min-ho borrow ID cards from Chinese friends and family to make the dangerous journey across China. On a long bus trip, they have several near misses where their true identities are almost discovered at checkpoints. After finally making it across China, the family now learns they must get to South Korea via Laos. Hyeonseo has no choice but to leave her family to complete this part of the journey alone.

After reaching Laos safely, Min-ho and his mother are picked up and arrested by police. Hyeonseo travels to Laos to find them but is faced with numerous bureaucratic roadblocks. Immigration officials demand Hyeonseo pay a huge fine to get her family out of prison. Without enough money, Hyeonseo is at a loss until a chance encounter saves the day. In a coffee house, Hyeonseo meets an Australian traveller named Dick Stolp who is concerned about the plight of North Korean people and offers to pay the fines without question. Hyeonseo’s family is finally released and they begin their own immigration process.

Hyeonseo goes back to Seoul, expecting her family to follow within a few days. However, they are sent to another Laos prison where they join the queue of North Koreans being processed for exit before being sent to the South Korean embassy. After a long wait, Hyeonseo’s family finally makes it to South Korea. Around the same time, Hyeonseo realizes that she and Kim have no real future together and they end their relationship.

Hyeonseo’s mother and brother struggle to adjust to life in South Korea. They even contemplate returning to the North but Hyeonseo convinces them to stay. Eventually, Hyeonseo begins speaking publicly about her story and joins activists groups to support Korean reunification. It is through one of these groups that she meets her future husband, an American expat named Brian.

At the end of the book, Hyeonseo is happily married and has gained exposure as a North Korean activist. Her family is adjusting to their new lives and they even take a trip to America together, which is something they never thought they would do.

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