Some of us may relate to a time when we saw the world through a child’s eyes. It has always been a mystery to me how that happens. But when it does, there’s a sense of new appreciation for things that have become ‘ho hum’ to us through time and familiarity. I have discovered this book gives us the same kind of perspective. We see what life might be like in North Korea through the eyes of a lost child, a lost boy, known in that country as a ‘flower swallow.’
Once I started reading this book, I became entranced. Because really, what do we know about life in North Korea? Not really enough for us to develop compassion for people who are trapped within a nation whose despotic leaders want them to think they are gods. So this story is told in the first person by a little boy named Woong. From his viewpoint, we understand the people a little bit more; we understand a land in famine, hit by storms, flash floods, cruel dictators, starvation and hard circumstances. Life was so harsh that many children were cut loose from their families to find their own way. In the Western world, we would think of them as “street urchins” thinking back to the eighteenth century London where children often lived in the streets. If you’ve read or watched the story Oliver, that would give you a glimpse of what that life was about. It wasn’t pretty. So too, this boy Woong had a tough life. He wasn’t an orphan, but he was cut loose from family nevertheless.
The author, Alana Terry, creates a character with tons of personality. Unlike the story of Oliver, which was a serious tome from the onset to its conclusion, Woong is a mischievous little guy who thinks and ponders things through. This story is his reflection on his younger years as a ‘flower swallow’, where his adventures and attitudes remind me more of Tom Sawyer than Oliver. I often chuckled, if not at the circumstances, definitely at the way the adventures were explained by a little boy. (His present life sounds as if he’s about 8 or 9, telling this story to his American teacher.)
What I especially appreciate about this book is the combination of pathos and humor. The humor does not detract from the seriousness of the population’s condition. It is so well written, that when the boy speaks of his every day life, you can laugh but with tears in your eyes. You gain such a sense of sympathy devoid of pity. I could appreciate the strength needed to cope and survive in such a hostile environment. I began to admire Woong, and others who barely survived. In fact, I experienced a wide range of emotions while reading this story, including admiration for the author who made this story come alive.
I highly recommend it for your household. This is the type of book you can read with your children, since there are no graphic scenes in this book, although you should be prepared to share harsh reality with your children if they have not been exposed to it before. Yet this book is one that’s appropriate for a wide range of readers. As a former homeschool mom, I can see many applications in this book for children and young people.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”