Every Falling Star follows the life of author Sungju Lee as he escaped from North Korea. Photo: Harry N. Abrams.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

During the school year, when you feel like readings are piled up to your ears, reading for fun can seem like a ridiculous idea—but it shouldn’t. Reading is the fastest way for you to make an escape into the world of your choosing, and expand your vocabulary without even knowing it. The underappreciated world of literature offers endless benefits, so without further ado, check out this week’s read.

North Korea is a country that is renowned for being shrouded in mystery, but Sungju Lee’s memoir titled Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea manages to reveal some of the nation’s best-kept secrets.

The memoir begins with a brief history of North Korea, which is aptly designated as “the Hermit Kingdom” for its complete detachment from the rest of the world. It’s against this backdrop that Lee begins his story.

The narrative starts with Lee’s upbringing, where he was born into an affluent military family in the country’s capital of Pyongyang. He had dreams of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a general in the army. His parents were very loving and had every intention of providing him with the means to achieve these dreams.

However, once he reached the age of 12, Lee’s parents were exiled from Pyongyang. Although Lee does not go into detail about the reasons behind their banishment, he states that their actions would have been seen as acceptable in a Western democratic society.

Lee then chronicles how his life suddenly shifted from that of an ambitious boy with blind faith in the North Korean regime, to a homeless child who was forced to grow up all too quickly.

This book outlines his time on the streets, where he formed a gang with seven other boys in similar circumstances. While it’s easy to see the word “gang” and assume that these boys were villainous, Lee portrays them as loyal and selfless. He eventually came to call these boys his brothers, since they were all condemned to a life of thievery and street violence in order to stay alive.

Despite eventually escaping from this oppressive regime of North Korea, Lee still wishes to return to his home one day under better circumstances.  

All in all, it’s an enlightening read that highlights how freedom in Western countries is often taken for granted. Even if memoirs aren’t your usual cup of tea, you’ll find yourself rooting for Lee and hoping that he will find freedom and happiness.

Although his memoir is categorized as young adult literature, Every Falling Star is an important book for readers of all ages. Lee’s writing manages to remain appropriate for younger audiences, while still depicting a mature account of his harrowing experiences.

So if you’re looking for a book that inspires resilience and sheds light on the elusiveness that surrounds North Korea, Every Falling Star is for you.


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