"Lee takes us into urgent and emotional novelistic terrain: the desperate and tenuous realms defectors are forced to inhabit after escaping North Korea.” –Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son
"The more confusing and horrible our world becomes, the more critical the role of fiction in communicating both the facts and the meaning of other people’s lives. Krys Lee joins writers like Anthony Marra, Khaled Hosseini and Elnathan John in this urgent work." –San Francisco Chronicle
Yongju is an accomplished student from one of North Korea's most prominent families. Jangmi, on the other hand, has had to fend for herself since childhood, most recently by smuggling goods across the border. Then there is Danny, a Chinese-American teenager whose quirks and precocious intelligence have long made him an outcast in his California high school.
These three disparate lives converge when they flee their homes, finding themselves in a small Chinese town just across the river from North Korea. As they fight to survive in a place where danger seems to close in on all sides, in the form of government informants, husbands, thieves, abductors, and even missionaries, they come to form a kind of adoptive family. But will Yongju, Jangmi and Danny find their way to the better lives they risked everything for?
Transporting the reader to one of the least-known and most threatening environments in the world, and exploring how humanity persists even in the most desperate circumstances, How I Became a North Korean is a brilliant and essential first novel by one of our most promising writers.
A FINALIST FOR THE 2016 CENTER FOR FICTION FIRST NOVEL PRIZE
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal
One of The Millions' most anticipated books of the second half of 2016
One of Elle.com's "11 Best Books to Read in August"
One of Bookpage's "Six Stellar Summer Debuts"
"On nights like this, it feels as if we're the only people remaining on the planet," says Yongju, a young man whose family had been Pyongyang aristocracy until the Dear Leader decided otherwise and shot his father. But Jangmi, who crossed the border because she was pregnant with the baby of a comrade who was married to someone else, replies with a clarification: "No... it's more as if the entire world is elsewhere and we've been forced out." The two have recently met in a cave in China. And although they've made it that far, Jangmi and Yongju still have a long way to go. Lee (Drifting House) structures her novel across four successive parts, "Crossing," "The Border," "Safe," and "Freedom," as it follows the two, along with Danny, a Christian Korean-American teenager from Fresno, through each stage of their escapes. Though the three characters all start from very different places, geographically, economically, and emotionally, they meet in the cave. From there, each will then make his or her way across another border to South Korea, again finding themselves together in the home of a Christian minister with more nefarious inclinations than his generosity initially indicates. Their haunting stories reveal the darkness of life in North Korea as well as the enormous risk of escape, resulting in a vivid and harrowing read.