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Every Falling Star is the heartbreaking and inspirational memoir of Sungju Lee, who grew up in North Korea. After living in privileged Pyongyang and wholeheartedly believing in their communist leader, at the age of ten he must face the realities of communism in a poorer town after his father falls out of favor with the regime.
After moving to this poorer town, Sungju received criticism from his classmates for being unaware of the conditions they had been living in all along. He quickly realized that his father had not been sent to this area “on vacation” like he had been told, but that he must have fallen out of favor in some way. Both of his parents refuse to tell him what happened, and after some time, his father headed north to China looking for food. When he doesn’t return, his mother left as well, headed to a nearby town to see if an aunt has food to spare. This left young Sungju on his own to fend for himself.
“Morality is a great song a person sings when he or she has never been hungry.”
Over the next several years, Sungju learned to steal from the street vendors in order to feed himself. He and a friend from his new town joined together with a few other boys to create a gang. When the town they were in became too overrun with boys stealing, they began to travel. Along the way, two of the boys died because of the violence they faced on the streets. After several years, Sungju finds his grandfather, who had never stopped looking for him. After that, a man came to take him to China, where he was to transported to South Korea, a place he always feared. There he was finally reunited with his father and given a chance for a future.
What I loved most about this book was that it gave a message of hope, despite its darkness.
There was a lot of darkness. There were fights with knives. There was the use of alcohol and drugs to forget the pain. At one point, boys who should hardly know what sex even is were selling women so that they could have money for food. It was terribly heartbreaking to think of the conditions that these boys had to live through.
“I think the worst thing anyone can do is make them stop believing in something higher, something good, something pure, a reason for everything–hope, maybe. God, maybe.”
However, despite all of the loss that Sungju suffered and all of the terrible things he had to do to survive, he never lost hope that he would be reunited with his family. When his grandfather initially found him, he was so hardened by the streets that he had wanted to steal from him. When Sungju realized that it really was his grandfather, the hope that it gave him was so great that it broke through years of unimaginable pain and violence. He began to hope even more for all of his family to be reunited.
When Sungju arrived in South Korea he was terrified because he had grown up being told that they would feed him well, and then after he had told them secrets about North Korea, they would kill him. He was angry with his father for not finding him sooner. He was upset that his father would deceive him into coming to a place like South Korea. However, when he was reunited with his father, he found out that his father had never stopped looking for him. In the same way, they still do not stop looking for his mother. They have hope, after all of this time that she can still be found. They spend what money they have trying to find her.
Sungju has now gone to college and graduate school. He hopes to work toward the reunification of North and South Korea. He believes that the two countries can be unified, and has dedicated his education to this end. He has worked in and with embassies to learn and grow as a person and a leader, with the hope that his new experiences, paired with his old experiences, will help him to bring peace to these two countries he has grown to love.