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Reading and Conversation with Novelist Krys Lee: How I Became a North Korean

At her UCI visit Krys Lee, the author of How I Became a North Korean, talked about how she helped defectors from North Korea take refuge in South Korea.

At her UCI visit Krys Lee, the author of How I Became a North Korean, talked about how she helped defectors from North Korea take refuge in South Korea. Lee talked about North Korea’s history, what the people in North Korea have had to face. Specifically, the famine saw the country stop providing rations for its people, and make a conscious decision to protect a few million of its citizens but not others. Another big challenge that North Korea faced was the devaluation of its currency in the late 2000’s, where people’s life savings were wiped out.

Krys Lee said she’s frustrated with documentaries about North Korea that reveal escape routes. As for the political implications in South Korea for hosting North Korean defectors, Lee said that there are South Koreans who resent North Koreans who get government benefits such as housing in South Korea. As for why Lee chose the title How I Became a North Korean, the author said that it refers to the emphasis on how citizenship status acts as a label that determines people’s rights. The title draws attention to this sense of identity and how other people decide what you are; you’re born but you don’t get to choose your status, according to Krys Lee.

Krys Lee talked a lot about helping North Korean defectors adapt to life in South Korea. She can get in trouble for helping North Korean defectors, but she says that because she’s from the U.S., she’s not too afraid of getting caught and going to jail because the U.S. sends a representative to check on its citizens that are incarcerated in South Korea to make sure that they’re okay. She says that the risk for South Koreans getting in the same trouble is greater, since they don’t have U.S. protection like she does.  The author said she’s interested in helping North Korean defectors because they’re a community that needs a lot of help, risking life and death to find a better life for themselves outside of a broken communist country.

- Justice Healy, UCI