The Girl with Seven Names

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I know very little about Asia yet I found a lot of points that I could relate to in this book. Lee's explanation that she loves her country and wants it to become good (Intro p. xiii) was a spot-on connection to a parent wishing good for their wayward child. But other parts remain difficult to understand, no matter the explanation. Not just how the North Koreans could have such faith in their leaders, but how having "only 20 - 30 kilos of rice so they didn't attract attention" is a subtle amount (equals approx. 40 - 50 lbs) (p. 58)

Overall the book is a nice read. Short chapters keep it moving along.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 2

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 2

Suspense: 2

Morality: 3

Traditional: 2

Sex - it is mentioned here and there but no details. It would be hard to have a realistic account that touches the world of human trafficking without mentioning sex.

Religion - a couple references to defectors who are approached with religion but after completing the book I'm not even aware if the author has a particular religious belief. She did pray a couple of times to deceased ancestors or a God.

Gruesome - there are some prison accounts. Nothing too detailed but it still tugs at a good conscience.

Suspense - the tensest escape moments were scripted well to heighten suspense but are quickly resolved.

Morality - sometimes doing what you have to do to survive or protect is the morally correct choice, even if it is bribing an official or lying about a variety of things

Traditional - for the majority of readers, there is NOTHING traditional about this book. It describes a world we can barely imagine only after reading the book. Government dictators, corrupt officials, Asian culture, poverty, desperation, strong family ties - some Americans may think they have this but it is nowhere near the degree as Ms. Lee.

Discussion Questions

In the Prologue (p. xvi) did you understand that what the father went back in to the burning house to save were not family portraits but the portraits of the political leaders?

What are some polite customs you insist on? What do you wish others would insist on? (p. 14)

Does the legend of Kim Il-Sung sound like it might be borrowed from a Christian understanding of God? (p. 22)

"Kidness toward strangers is rare in North Korea. There is risk in helping others. The irony was that by forcing us to be good citizens, the state made accusers and informers of us all." (p. 38)

Discuss. Would you choose kindness or self-preservation?

Have you ever been to a fortune teller? Were they right? (Ch. 7)

What pop stars did you dance to with your friends? (Ch. 10) Who was the mushiest singer of your youth?

In Ch. 18 the author describes feelings associated with deceiving her mom. Do you have any childhood escapades you recall?

In the photos, why were the eyes of her aunt, mom and brother blurred out?

Discuss the Australian's (Dick Stolp) role in the story. Why would he help? Do you have any personal stories of generosity (received or given) to share? (Ch. 48)

Theme Ideas

Watch the TED Talk.

Decorate with pinecones like her mom batted down from the trees outside Anju. (p. 25)

Serve naengmyeon, "noodles served in an ice cold beef broth with a tangy sauce", her mom's favorite. (p. 32)

Serve nooroongji like Mrs. Ahn served to her North Korean visitors. (p. 102)

Serve ice cream like the author ate every day once she went to China.

Serve bubble-milk tea.

Sing karaoke. (Ch. 20)

Listen to South Korean pop music. (Ch. 10)