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How I Became a North Korean

Krys Lee

The debut novel from Krys Lee, author of the much-loved story collection, Drifting House

Date Published
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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.families. Danny is a Chinese-American teenager of Korean descent whose parents left China when he was nine; his quirks and precocious intelligence have long marked him as an outcast among his peers, and he yearns for the China of his youth.

These three disparate lives converge when each of them travels to the region where China borders North Korea–Danny to visit his mother, who is working as a missionary there; Yongju to escape persecution after his father is killed at the hands of the Dear Leader himself; and Jangmi to protect her unborn child.

As they struggle 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 adopted family.

The novel transports the reader to one of the most complex and threatening environments in the world, and explores how humanity persists even in the most dire of circumstances.

Critic Reviews

A brave and moving novel.

Yiyun Li, author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
Critic Reviews

Suspenseful [and] beautifully written.

Critic Reviews

Invites us into a world Westerners rarely glimpse and can barely imagine [with] moments of startling intimacy.

O, The Oprah Magazine
Critic Reviews

A novel of great sincerity and moral courage, a book that can stand as a resonant response to the challenge that fiction has no place in the white heat of political turmoil.

Alex Preston, Financial Times
Critic Reviews

I was entranced by How I Became a North Korean, and read it with increasing admiration. It’s such a penetrating work, an education, really, powered by a determination to salute the stories that have hitherto passed us by.

Sunjeev Sahota, author of The Year of the Runaways

Krys Lee is the author of the short story collection Drifting House and How I Became a North Korean. She is a recipient of the Rome Prize and the Story Prize Spotlight Award, the Honor Title in Adult Fiction Literature from the Asian/Pacific American Libraries Association, and a finalist for the BBC International Story Prize. Her fiction, journalism, and literary…

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