Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Review: Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee

Book: Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju
Genre: YA NF Memoir
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Lately I've been hearing a lot about these types of books, stories from North Korea. And while I've been a bit scared to read them, I've been very curious and interested too. So finally I tracked this one down at the library and proceeded to devour it.

This one is told almost like a novel, but in the voice of the author as he remembers his childhood days. Life was pretty good for him for the first few years. They lived in the capital city in North Korea and his parents had good jobs and they had good things and lived comfortably. His dad was sort of "high up" in the government if I understand correctly, but must have done something "wrong" because one day everything changed.

(Sungju, as a kid, never knew what happened, and then finally, years later, he was told, but he still can't reveal what it was because there could still be repercussions to family members.)

One day, his dad came home and said, let's pack, we are going on vacation.

They left their apartment and comfortable living and headed to a small town more north where their life slowly unraveled. After maybe nearly a year, they had run out of food. Jobs weren't working out. Sungju quit school. And finally his dad said, "I' going to China to find food, I'll be back in a week."

Of course, he never came back.

After months of waiting, his mom said "I'm going to aunt's house to find food. I'll be back in a week."

Of course, she never came back.

Sungju was barely 12 years old.

You see, a famine was going on due to the invasion of the US on North Korea. Yes. And everyone was starving. And now Sungju, as this little kid, had to figure out how to survive.

He went to his friend's house and together they perfected the art of pick pocketing and swiping from merchants. Eventually, they gathered other friends and formed a gang of seven street boys. They traveled from town to town, fighting other gangs for the territory, and learning better and better ways to steal stuff. Sungju was dubbed their leader and he had to do all the fighting. (Thanks to learning taekwondo back before life changed.)

Anyway, and so it goes from there... four years on the streets. He was even in the kids jail for awhile, a place no one survives. But he and his gang busted out. This lasted until he was 16 years old. And his parents never came back.

But then one day....

Okay see, I can't tell you exactly how it ends, because that would be a spoiler, even though you know the ending! I want you to read it!! But, let's just say, I couldn't put it down last night and read until the wee hours to see how it all ended... crying all the while.

Amazing story. It's hard to believe that this stuff is truly happening to people, regular people, right now. It's not like it's in the past and over with... like...right now. This kid is my own son's age. This happened to him just a few years ago (years 1998 to 2002 to be exact). And it's still happening. All because these people happened to live on the wrong side of a line drawn in the sand when leaders were dividing up the spoils of war.

I don't know what the future holds for this country, but I'd love to see them unified some day as a one Korea,  with South Korea going in,  putting their arms around their brothers, and helping them to recover.

Sungju is doing great today. But it's one of those stories where he was so angry that it took him more than a year to find himself after being rescued. He could have gone either way. But there was a specific moment where he decided he wanted to live a good life and chose the better path. I'm so glad he did and happy that he is able to tell his story now with such a positive tone and feeling of hope. Yes, it's truly an amazing story that while to us seems so crazy and powerful, and yet, is basically the story told by everyone living there.



  1. That sounds like a powerful story. I have not read any books about North Korea yet.

  2. Interesting. Makes you grateful we live in the US.

  3. I've heard good things about this one. Sounds fascinating.

  4. What is happening in North Korea is very sad and distressing. There are silent revolutions going on, but it is very dangerous.

  5. I read a super good book called The Girl with Seven Names. I recommend that one. I have In Order To Live (which I will read this year) as well as The Frozen Hours. I’m sure there will be more books. Oh....I recommend Human Acts by Han Kang (I read it and haven’t gotten to posting about it).



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