News of the hermit kingdom of North Korea has increased recently, especially with the Trump-Kim Summit held in Singapore only a month ago. As a result, books regarding North Korea has risen in popularity. For somebody very interested in the happenings within North Korea, I read these books as a chance for me to understand the true horrors that lurk behind the mask of colourful parades and a huge army of soldiers marching. Although there are many memoirs of authors recounting their escape from North Korea, the that? resonated with me the most has to be ‘Every Falling Star’, written by Sungju Lee.
‘Every Falling Star’ depicts Lee’s childhood growing up in North Korea, from his younger days when he lived in the capital of Pyongyang and was given a good life, to his teenage years after his father, a former military official, fell from the country’ good graces. His father’s demotion resulted in the family moving to a rural part of North Korea, where Lee realised that not everything in his country was as perfect as the supreme leader claimed. Eventually, his parents abandoned him and he was left alone to fend for himself. Stricken with poverty, he formed a street gang with his former classmates from the village school and the story illustrates the hardships and adventurous lives they led, while also depicting the familial bond that can develop between a group of friends. The book pulls you along as you wonder what will happen next. After a few years, he finally finds his long lost grandparents and he manages to live a civilised life again. Soon, his father, who had defected to South Korea, sends a messenger in the hope that Lee would come back to him and join him in a new life.
Lee’s story will pull at your heartstrings, warm your heart while managing to break it at the same time. I found find it interesting as it is the first book of its kind directed towards young adults and teenagers. Lee did that purposely as he felt that there weren’t enough books directed toward those age groups to educate them about North Korea, and he wanted to send the youths a message about how any hardship they are currently facing in life will come to pass, just as his had. Furthermore, I like the transition from the high class life of a North Korean elite to the low life of a family who had been condemned by the government. Memoirs of North Korean defectors usually fail to show us the experience of living a good life in North Korea and I feel that this was a good, while small opportunity to read about the experience of being an elite.
There are some mature themes such as death and torture present throughout the book, but if you are interested to know more about North Korea through an insider’s perspective, I strongly urge you to give ‘Every Falling Star’ a try!