ALA Annual was an energizing blur of celebrations... but one experience was so extraordinary I can't not write about it. We all have our pet topics, things we particularly enjoy reading about. My own include Anne Frank, New Orleans, and North Korea. So the opportunity to chat with debut author Sungju Lee, whose memoir about leaving North Korea, Every Falling Star, will be published by Abrams' Amulet this September, was especially thrilling.
In South Korea, there are only 30,000 people who have escaped North Korea, so Sungju is one of a small coterie able to talk about life in the closed society. Funny and thoughtful, Sungju is professionally determined to work towards reunification of Korea through diplomatic channels, and his book for young people sets out his dramatic backstory.
Sungju's book focuses on his experience as a relatively pampered child of privilege who is forced to fend for himself after his family leaves the capital city of Pyongyang. When famine forces his parents to leave to seek food, he takes to the streets, where he and his band of brothers develop their own society and moral code. It concludes when, at long last, Sungju finds his grandfather and eventually, his father, joining him in South Korea.
We spent so much of the evening in Orlando talking about Sungju's experience after leaving North Korea, living in Canada and studying at Warwick, but after reading his book -- it was the first I grabbed after reading nineteen YA novels over the past six days -- has left me wishing I'd ask more about his leaving home. I almost asked him about whether he had to change all his clothes, since that seemed such a part of other accounts I'd read, but it seemed too intimate. It turned out to be a component of his journey, too.
A fascinating read!