No, your eyes are not deceiving you, this isn’t a YA book review… *laughs at self* On a serious note, I am talking about a book that has a very sensitive topic to discuss. Here are my thoughts on Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee.
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee
Publication Date: 13 September 2016
Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.
It may be a surprise to some of you that I am intrigued by the secretive state that is North Korea, and I have recently began to read books about life under the regime. For those of you are interested, I have read “Nothing to Envy”, “The Girl with Seven Names” and “In Order to Live”. This is a very cheeky plug, but if you follow me on GoodReads, you’ll be able to keep up with what I am currently adding to my North Korea shelf (yep, I have one!).
When I was offered the chance to read Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee a few months before publication, I couldn’t resist. Although, let’s be real though, when can I ever resist a book?
Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea claims to be the first book of its kind to be aimed at a young audience. It aims to inform the reader of life in North Korea, with an easy to understand narrative. Every Falling Star is an account of Sungju’s life growing up in North Korea and we follow him as we goes from privileged young boy in Pyongyang, to a “kotjebi” living on the streets, doing what is necessary to survive in a country blitzed by famine and corruption.
As Every Falling Star is intended for a young audience, I found it to easy to understand and follow. With the overall story being told in a way that was easy to follow, and a glossary at the back of the book explaining some of the terms used, it is ideal for those who have no prior knowledge of North Korea.
Every Falling Star is autobiographical, so the characters we meet are all real (although I would imagine names have been changed). Sungju’s account of his life as a “kotjebi” quickly became hard to read; I can’t imagine anyone would find it easy reading about starvation, violence, drugs and death – especially with children involved. I did find at times the conversations were rather dramatic and I questioned whether they happened exactly as described. Sungju addresses this later on in the acknowledgments in the book, admitting some of the conversations may not have been exactly was said and have been recreated for the book. Considering he escaped from one of the most brutal regimes in the world, I don’t expect him to have pitch perfect memory and recall of conversations he had, but bear this in mind if you do pick up the book yourself.
I would recommend Every Falling Star to those who haven’t read a book about North Korea before and want an introduction to what is a difficult and complex topic. I would also recommend it for those who are already familiar with North Korea as I found it to be a new perspective on life under the regime. I will advise that the book does talk about some mature, and upsetting topics so I would not recommend giving this to young children.
I awarded 4/5 stars to Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee on GoodReads as even though it is at times difficult to read, it is an important read and should not be taken lightly. I can’t even begin to imagine what Sungju’s life was like, and I feel immensely lucky and grateful to grow up in a country where I am free to live my life without oppression. It genuinely makes me happy to see what Sungju has gone on to achieve in his life, and he really is a shining example of the strength of the human spirit in difficult times.