Remarkable bravery fluently recounted.

The ably reconstructed story of the author’s convoluted escape from North Korea, detailing the hardships of life there and the serendipity of flight.

A supremely determined young woman, Lee chronicles her life in North Korea and her defection in her late teens in 1998. With the assistance of co-author John, she re-creates a picaresque tale of incredible, suspenseful, and truly death-defying adventures, which eventually led her to asylum in South Korea and then America. The author grew up largely in the northeast province of Ryanggang, bordering the Yalu River with China, and her family home was in Hyesan. Her father was a privileged member of the military, and her enterprising mother was a successful trader on the black market. The family, including younger brother Min-ho, did not endure the hardships of famine like people of low songbun, or caste, but the author learned that her father was not her biological father only shortly before he died by suicide after being trailed by security, beaten, and imprisoned in her mid-teens. Her mother had previously married and divorced another man. At age 17, the lights of China, directly across the river, beckoned, and the author managed to cross and establish contact first with a trading partner of her mother’s, then dissident relatives of her father’s in Shenyang. While the author had no intention of leaving her mother, it was apparent that it was too dangerous for her to return. Her relatives shielded her for a few years, trying to arrange a marriage with a wealthy Korean-Chinese man, from whom the author fled at the eleventh hour. Working as a waitress in Shanghai afforded some invisibility, though she was always susceptible to con men and security police. As the narrative progresses, the author’s trials grow ever more astounding, especially as she eventually tried to get her mother and brother out of North Korea.

Remarkable bravery fluently recounted.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-00-755483-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper360

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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