In conversation with Michael David Lukas
In How I Became a North Korean, 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. Danny is a Chinese-American teenager of North Korean descent whose quirks and precocious intelligence have long marked him as an outcast in his California high school.
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, after a humiliating incident keeps him out of school; 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. But will Yongju, Jangmi and Danny find their way to the better lives they risked everything for? Transporting the reader to one of the most complex and threatening environments in the world, and exploring how humanity persists even in the most dire of circumstances, How I Became a North Korean is a brilliant and essential first novel by one of our most promising writers.
Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. Her debut story collection, Drifting House, was awarded the 2012 Story Prize Spotlight Award and was a finalist for the 2012 BBC International Story Prize. Her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), The Guardian, Financial Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Conde Nast Traveller, UK, and other publications. She is a professor of creative writing at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College in Seoul