MEDIA RELEASE: North Korean defector launches memoir at Asia House

Hyeonseo Lee tells her story of escaping from North Korea.

Hyeonseo Lee tells her story of escaping from North Korea.

MEDIA RELEASE: North Korean defector launches memoir at Asia House

10 July 2015

Media release

LONDON UK: North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee launched her memoir The Girl with Seven Names at Asia House, London. Lee’s book recounts her perilous escape from North Korea when she was 17 years old. It provides a rare insight into the reality of life in one of the world’s most secretive countries.

Jemimah Steinfeld, Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival Manager, introduced Lee as “one of the most important voices to come out of North Korea in recent years.” Her memoir, published by HarperCollins in July 2015, recounts her escape from North Korea. It also reminisces on the years that followed when she was on the run from the authorities. During this time she had to change her name seven times to evade capture.

Speaking to a sold-out audience at Asia House, Lee discussed her childhood in Hyesan, a town in North Korea situated close to the Chinese border. Lee grew up believing that her country was the greatest nation on earth however as she entered her teenage years, she saw the bright lights of China across the river and realised that in North Korea, she would face a life under constant surveillance.

This led to her escape in 1997 at a time when she started to suspect that claims made about North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong-il were incorrect. She fled during the North Korean famine, which occurred in North Korea between 1994 and 1998. Lee told the audience that to her knowledge, the famine killed more than one million North Koreans, and that the corpses of people who had not eaten for weeks would appear in the river of her home town.

She explained how she thought that there was nationwide loyalty towards the Pyongyang-based government. However, as she grew older she realised this loyalty was fear. She would question why people would disappear under the cover of darkness, later learning that entire families would be taken to prison camps if they spoke any bad words about the government. She spoke of how her mother would tell her that even the walls had ears.

When asked why she decided to publish her memoir, Lee told the audience that “I hope that by sharing my story and my dream of peaceful reunification we can bring South Korea and North Korea together one day.”

Lee came into the limelight when she spoke at a TED conference in February 2013. She was the first North Korean defector to speak at any TED event and to date her talk has surpassed four million views on YouTube. She is now a human rights campaigner and student living in South Korea, where she gained asylum in 2008.

For press enquiries please contact Lucy Tomlinson on or 0207 307 5451.


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On Monday 13 July join us to re-create a day in the temple with repeating performances from 12pm to 8pm by Paris-based Korean traditional dancer Jaehyun An and Asia House’s former artist/choreographer-in -residence Yong Min Cho. More information