Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review // The Girl with Seven Names

One fateful night, just when she is one month shy of her 18th birthday, Hyeonseo Lee crosses the frozen Yalu river into China, with little more than curiosity and a rebelling spirit.  The first words of her mother when she calls was “Don’t come back.”

Thus begins a tormenting and gripping story of fear and the uncertainty in which Lee must figure out how to navigate in a foreign country with no money and identity. 
It’s a story of one woman’s terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

Lee was born in North Korea, one of the most secretive and oppressive countries in the modern world. At age seven, she witnesses her first public execution and self-criticism sessions were part of her daily sessions at school. Those who did not cry when Kim Il-Sung died mysteriously disappeared.

In this powerful memoir, Lee recounts her life inside the secretive communist brutal regime. As a survival strategy, she changed her name for seven times, thus the title of the book.

In her dire effort to reunite with her mother and brother, she plans to meet her brother arranged through the local broker.

‘Sixty thousand yuan - a fortune representing ten years’ wages at the restaurant-and a week’s imprisonment with the threat of rape, and all I achieved was a three minute reunion with Min-ho.’ 

In 2009, a little over a decade after she left North Korea, Lee gets an opportunity to get her mother and brother out, taking them on a long, extremely risky route through China to Laos where they could seek asylum in South Korea.

I’m aware that there is a ‘situation’ in North Korea. Yet other than knowing the name of the leader Kim Jong-un, I was unaware of the tightly suppressive dictatorship. The movie The Interview  provides a better insight, perhaps. 
I’ve thought that such regimes existed only in Hitler’s Germany. However, I’m baffled to learn that this is happening right under the sky we live in.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the ordeals she went through to escape to South Korea. Lee’s journey is harrowing and inspirational. She is a hero. This memoir is simply unputdownable. What happens next? Will she survive the journey? are the constant questions that looms your mind until you turn the last page. It’s an incredible book.  

The Girl with Seven Names is one of the best memoirs I’ve read so far. And it was terribly hard for me to come to terms that this is not a work of fiction. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How would you feel if you’re a guy…

Image via pinterest

It was a couple of months back. I was lying on the couch at home when this sudden urge to take a stroll outside hit me. I glanced up my pink wall clock and saw that it was 6:30 pm. A slight glimmer of dusk was seen outside my window. I debated whether I should go on the stroll or not.

Now or Never, I thought, slipped into a pair of leggings and sneakers and darted out the house with a pullover and cellphone with the earphones plugged in. 

I crossed a small wooden bridge alongside the Minister’s enclave in Motithang and walked up towards Sangaygang.

At the base of Sangaygang, children were playing at the outdoor gym. Some were cycling uphill, huffing and puffing. Young couples were walking their dogs and older men and women were strolling around. I bumped into a college mate on his evening run.

With my earphones still plugged in, I climbed the hill. Normally I walk up straight on the road. But that evening, I thought I will challenge myself to hike up. 

The time on my wristwatch showed 6:45 pm. I reassured myself that I’d be able to reach the hilltop before dusk. It took me exactly an hour to reach the hilltop. Darkness engulfed me. I switched on my cellphone’s torch and started walking downhill.

No one was seen there. All of them had returned home. 

I quickened my pace and took the shortest route as much as possible. As I was nearing the base, three men emerged all of a sudden from a nearby bush. They kept walking behind me.

Almost instantly, my heart swelled and started thumping louder. I could feel it on my throat. I took off my earphones and started jogging, pretending that I’m cool about it. I kept my thumb on the speed dial on the cellphone ready to call and scream.

What was I worried about?
These men did not do anything to me.

They must have gone somewhere and probably must be on their way home. But. But my female natural instinct? When alone at night is to be fearful. To feel anxious, weak, fearful, vulnerable and alert.

Women feel scared and vulnerable when alone at night. If a guy walks behind us, we feel being followed, vulnerable even if he doesn’t say or do anything particularly threatening. If a guy try to smile to make us feel comfortable, it may come off as creepy. I’m not sure what males could do to make us feel less scared in situations like that.

It’s such a sad world that we live in. As a girl, I have been taught to be vulnerable, not to trust strangers and not to walk home alone at night. And we pass on the same advice to our daughters, niece, girlfriends, mothers. 
I’m curious about how men feel? When you see a woman alone at night. Whether you make a woman worried or nervous. Whether you’re afraid that you’re making the other one afraid. This makes the men seem not trustworthy. 
Then again, there really is nothing for them to do. 

I’d love to hear the perspectives from men.


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