Read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick Online

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An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea--a closed world of increasing global importance--hailed as a "tour de force of meticulous reporting" (The New York Review of Books)NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST - NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the livAn eye-opening account of life inside North Korea--a closed world of increasing global importance--hailed as a "tour de force of meticulous reporting" (The New York Review of Books)NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST - NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years--a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today--an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.Praise for Nothing to Envy"Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author's deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details."--The New York Times"Deeply moving . . . The personal stories are related with novelistic detail."--The Wall Street Journal"A tour de force of meticulous reporting."--The New York Review of Books"Excellent . . . humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad."--San Francisco Chronicle"The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Nothing to Envy. . . . Elegantly structured and written, [it] is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction."--John Delury, Slate"At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology."--The Philadelphia Inquirer...

Title : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
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ISBN : 9780385523912
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 316 Pages
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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Reviews

  • Emily May
    2019-02-18 18:59

    They don’t stop to think that in the middle of this black hole, in this bleak, dark country where millions have died of starvation, there is also love.A painfully human look at North Korea (mostly) through the eyes of defectors now living in South Korea or China.Demick peels back the layers of propaganda, parades and leader worship to expose the people and lives underneath. If you're anything like me, you'll find it hard not to be fascinated by this exceptionally secretive country and wonder what everyday life can really be like living in one of the strictest regimes on earth.Of course, even in the darkest places there are love stories, hopes, dreams and family dynamics. We see a young couple courting in secret over many years, a woman who loses everything during the devastating famine of the 1990s - a famine which killed anywhere between a few hundred thousand and several million people - and a man sent to a hard labor camp for petty crimes. Families of defectors, no matter how innocent, are rounded up and shipped off to camps that may as well be called death camps.Its was extremely interesting to get a look inside this closed country, and perhaps even more interesting to see the outside world through the eyes of those who escaped. I can't even imagine what it must be like to cross a border and discover that the world is nothing like you always believed.I recently really enjoyed the fictional Korean story in Pachinko, which begins before the country's division and during the Japanese colonization, so it was great to see the history that so intrigued me expanded upon here. For one thing, I had no idea that traditional dress for Korean women was a head-to-toe veil, not unlike the burka. There were lots of small facts like this that I found fascinating.Nothing to Envy reminds us of something important. That underneath all the craziness that is this regime and its deified leader, there are more than 20 million people just trying to feed their families, live their lives, and not get killed for it. Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube

  • Will Byrnes
    2019-02-23 17:59

    One thread of this riveting National Book Award finalist is a love story. Mi-san is an attractive girl from a family that does not have the right stuff, history-wise, her father having fought for South Korea in the war. They are considered “impure” by the North Korean government and society as a whole. Her prospects are only so-so. Jun-sang is headed to university in Pyongyang to study science. His future includes a good job, a membership in the party and a life of relative privilege. One enchanted evening, Jun, at age 15, sees her across a crowd at a local movie theater in the northeastern city of Chongjin, and is smitten. For the next ten years, they will dance a courtship ballet that is both endearing and horrifying. Dr. Kim Ji-eun is a sprite of a woman, a true believer in a system that allowed her to become a doctor. But in time she comes to feel differently. Learning that all her extra work gains her nothing from her boss. Working in a hospital that loses all it’s electricity, its’ running water, it’s supplies, watching scores of children die of starvation will do that to a person.Song Hee-Suk, or Mrs Song is another true believer in the North Korean way, volunteering for all sorts of party activities in addition to working full time and caring for her family. She embodies the entrepreneurial spirit here, attempting to put food on the table when there is no work. She keeps trying to start micro-small businesses, struggling mightily against the popular ethos that such activity is inherently wrong, selling all her family’s possessions for the money to start her enterprise. Nothing to Envy is a riveting, grim portrait of perhaps the most repressive nation on earth, a personification of H.G. Wells’ dark authoritarian nightmare. Barbara Demick is a big time foreign correspondent, for the LA Times since 2001. She became the Times’ Korea bureau chief, and has written much on life behind this particular bamboo curtain. She follows the lives of six North Koreans, all from the northeastern industrial city of Chongjin, and brings us their oral histories. Ultimately all of them find their way to South Korea. It is through their eyes that we see the reality of life in the North. Their stories continue once they have crossed the border, and their stories of adapting to such a strange new world are interesting, but the real core here is the images we get of life in North Korea.It is truly amazing to learn how complete was (and still is) the control of the authoritarian regime in North Korea, how effective the cradle-to-grave propaganda has been and how alarming the elevation of the Dear Leader to a god-like status. It is chilling to hear accounts of how the nation sank into famine, remarkable to learn what a doctor’s life entails, infuriating to learn of the lives of homeless orphans, or wandering swallows, as they are known.It is not at all surprising to see how neighbor eagerly turns in neighbor for thought-crimes. I mean we all went to school, and one can always count on there being those who seek advantage by undercutting others. But getting in trouble with one’s teacher is not quite the same as being transported to a slave labor camp, being marked for life as “impure,” being shunned or worse.I expect that most of us have a somewhat cartoonish image of North Korea, focusing on the mad king, sorry, party chairman, his dreams of nuclear power and the willingness of the North Korean people to believe all sorts of fantastical things about him. It merits knowing what the poor people of North Korea must endure. The horror there, the inhumanity, how the denial of reality affects real people, with real lives. It is no laughing matter.Demick also offers a very insightful look at similarities between those who have escaped the north and holocaust survivors, an apprehension of the qualities one must nurture in order to survive in extreme conditions, and she notes the collateral damage from defecting. The people she portrays in Nothing to Envy are as masterfully portrayed as characters in a great novel. We come to care about their travails, and get to see their flaws as well as their strengths. These are indeed the ordinary people promised in the books’ title, shown in an extraordinary way.There is indeed nothing to envy in North Korea, but it is important for us all to have some idea of what goes on there, if for no other reason than to be able to point to an example of how things shouldn’t be. Demick’s book will make you angry and it will make you sad. It should.P.S.There is an impressive bibliography at the end for this book for any who might be inspired to read about this place in more depth.=============================EXTRA STUFF2/13/12 - North Korea Agrees to Curb Nuclear Work; U.S. Offers Aid - The question is not raised in this New York Times article if any of the food aid will ever find its way to the general population or will be taken to feed the army and party officials6/14/13 - GR friend Jan Rice, in comment #8 below, posted on June 13, 2013, included a link to an AP story about NK, particularly how schools are still promoting hatred of Americans. I was reminded, although to a much lesser degree, of how how we were all taught to hate the "dirty commies" back in my school days. Here is that link, again. IN NORTH KOREA, LEARNING TO HATE US STARTS EARLY By Jean H. Lee9/18/17 - A riveting New Yorker Magazine article on the mindset in North Korea - must-reading, given the recent ratcheting up of tensions. Even a dotard could learn something here. - On the Brink - by /Evan Osnos

  • Shirley
    2019-03-11 22:20

    An amazing, unforgettable book about North Korea. Barbara Demick explores the most closed-off society in the world through the stories of six "ordinary" North Koreans who defect to South Korea beginning in the late 1990s. Through their stories, Demick covers a bit of everything (the pathological weirdness that was/is Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il and the cult of worship - and fear of reprisal - that made people cry harder at the former's death than they ever had in their lives, the role of a totalitarian government in the everyday lives of people, the deterioration of North Korea into blackouts/famine/starvation, South Korea's/China's reception of North Korean defectors) very skillfully without sensationalizing; the subject matter speaks for itself. Here are both moments of beauty (the reminiscences of two of the profiled North Koreans about how the blackouts at night allowed them to chastely walk and talk outside their village for hours at a time) and, more frequently, moments of horror (families deliberately winnowing down their members, i.e., starving everyone else to spare the children, who as the only surviving members of their families then became homeless begging kotjebi - 꽃제비 - literally swallows). As a new mother, I could not imagine being in a position where I could not provide enough food for my young toddler - thinking about all the orphaned kotjebi made me have to put down the book, pause, and collect myself before I could proceed. Not the only such moment.Demick also discusses the guilt and shame that many defectors have. One woman who left her children and ex-husband in North Korea mourns, "I sacrified my babies for myself." A mother who defects with one daughter is never able to forgive herself because, following their defections, her other two daughters who were still in North Korea were arrested and presumably sent to a labor camp. Another woman, now in South Korea with its plenties and excesses, is haunted by her husband's last words before he died during the famine, "Let's go to a good restaurant and order a nice bottle of wine." I was especially moved by this book. It is completely heartbreaking in many places. I, already a sentimental reader (in case you, dear Goodreads readers, haven't already ascertained as much), tend to get even more sentimental when I read about Korea. Moreover, and more relevantly, my dad is from North Korea, and I can't help but wonder about the fates of relatives I don't even know about. This book should have great appeal beyond my myopically sentimental lens, fortunately, as it is extremely well-written and compulsively readable and deserves to be widely read and discussed.

  • Stuart
    2019-02-27 18:52

    There are few books like this written today: concise, well-researched, plainly yet effectively written, and free of hyperbole. This book is a very personal account of six lives in the failed state of North Korea. The level of deprivation and humiliation these people endure is heartbreaking. The book reads more like an outstanding piece of social anthropology than it does cut and dried journalism. The author is to be commended for her ability to get inside both the hearts and minds of the people she has interviewed. I think that Nothing To Envy is a landmark book, a study of a culture and political system gone horribly wrong, that will be read for decades. As the author notes, North Korea is the last of its kind, a state with an entrenched despotic, supposedly Marxist, leader who denies not only basic freedoms but also the basic provisions necessary to maintain any quality of life. Reading this book in the comfort of my own well heated home, I felt both pity for those that live in North Korea and anger for the inability of the rest of the world to do anything while North Korea's citizens starve to death. The impact of this book is both emotional and intellectual. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the social welfare of people and the role that government plays in people's lives.

  • David Yoon
    2019-02-28 22:17

    In the aftermath of the Korean war my mother's brother left an enigmatic note on his pillow before stepping out for school. He never returned and the family lamented his apparent suicide. A half century later a list of names is published in Koreas' national paper. Part of the warming relations between North and South Korea, it offered the chance for families separated by the border to connect. So far nearly 20 thousand Koreans have participated in face-to-face meetings. My uncle's name is there along with some briefly sketched details of the family tree. He is very much alive and living in North Korea. This was the first any of the family had ever heard from him.My mother eventually traveled to North Korea to meet with her brother. My uncle was wearing a gold watch and a thinning suit. He confided that they were provided by the government solely for the visit. Other Koreans reunited with long lost relations were at nearby tables. Many had brought gifts of linens, food and clothing. He quietly admitted that gifts were pointless as their intended recipients would probably never see them again. My mother never talked too much about the visit. After a lifetime apart what do you say? Her brother is relatively affluent by North Korean standards, a professor who has raised a large family. Still, his face was gaunt, his teeth stained and crooked. His hands trembled constantly. I thought about my uncle a lot while I was reading "Nothing to Envy". In it author Barbara Demick pieces together the lives of 6 North Koreans who eventually defect to South Korea. It is an incredible and difficult read, especially the chapters outlining the devastating famine of the 1990's which claimed almost 10% of the population. The stories are riveting and framed beautifully. This isn't some dry recounting of facts outlining the poverty of North Korea but wondrously intertwined narratives that don't end with pat answers once they reach South Korea. Great read.

  • Shivesh
    2019-02-18 22:10

    A physician, possessing numerous years of education and selfless service to her people, comes upon a isolated farm in a dark field at twilight. The doctor is starving, malnourished and ravenous. She seeks crumbs, maybe a scrap of corn to eat. Slowly, she makes her way into a barn, musty with the odor of hay and equipment. She has not seen more than a handful worth of white rice in years. Indeed, white rice is a rare luxury in the world she comes from.Suddenly, she sees in the dark of the barn a gleam of a beaten metal bowl with cold lumps of glistening meat, surrounded by heaps of bright white grains. Could it be rice? Dear God, is that fatty pork? How could this be possible? Why would all this rich food be just lying here, in the middle of the floor of a dirty cold barn?Just then, she hears the dog.As Barbara Demick icily observes at this moment in the book, "Dr. Kim now realized the truth: in China, dogs ate better than doctors did back in North Korea."It is a moment of epiphany, and one of six realizations that separate six defectors' lives from their existence in North Korea from their subsequent lives in the free world. It is almost ridiculous to think of China as a truly open and free society, but the constant suppression and fear of the North Korean regime makes it so for the residents that flee to the border. An interesting observation from this book and its collection of defectors' stories is that it wasn't the lack of freedom, or the lack of money, or even the lack of status that propelled people to defect from this state, but the wholesale lack of food. Without food rations, there simply was not any reason for people to stay at their assigned posts or cities - they simply drifted away, or plucked the surrounding hillsides clean of any grass or edible root, or with their last bit of strength, dared the dangerous borders to relative freedom.If you need something to refocus your appreciation for your life, no matter how flawed or unsatisfactory it may be right now: read this book. It will change the way you think about North Korea, and definitely the way you might look at your own problems. Your life isn't so bad after all, huh?

  • Stephanie
    2019-03-20 00:12

    This book was simultaneously a page-turner and hard as hell to read. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of it, and when I did I had some unsettling nightmares. This isn't a book I can read, write an "oh that's nice, that definitely added to my life" type of review and go about my day. This is some seriously skillful nonfiction. It calls to mind being fourteen and reading Wild Swans. There's a similar structure to both works; history of a country to get the big picture, and memoirs of individual experiences to personalize statistics and news bulletins. And, this is harder to quantify or describe, both books gave me a sick, horrified feeling, even as I felt like parts of my brain were lighting up with brand new information. Some of the best non-fiction makes a reader feel like they can connect seemingly disparate facts together, and history makes a little more sense, and you can't remain distant any longer. Straight off, I need to say that this is not tragedy porn. That's not why I felt so overwhelmed by this. Demick is respectful of the North Korean defectors that she interviews, and never ventures into the realm of the maudlin. The individual lives take center stage, illuminated by what we know of North Korean history. The reader isn't allowed to rest on their laurels. Capitalism doesn't make their lives 100% better when they escape, and pretty much right off the bat Demick clarifies that Nothing To Envy is not about "oh those wacky North Koreans!" Much of this book demonstrates how to brainwash an entire country into an entire ideology... as well as how, and when, the North Koreans discussed here realized they had been deceived. I was astonished by the ingenuity of every single one of the people profiled, both when it came to surviving the famine and when they had to escape. This book bring back individuality to a nation that's so often reduced to a horror story or a joke. And, yeah, to circle back to my opening paragraph... The sense of individuality in this book will stick with me. I'm completely overwhelmed by just how many lives have been snuffed out in the North Korean famine. So many people with stories akin to those featured in Nothing To Envy. Gone.

  • Maede
    2019-02-27 21:51

    یک کتاب از هر کشور: ۱.کره شمالیترجمه شده به نام "افسوس نمی خوریم" نشر تندیساگر فکر می کنید کتاب ۱۹۸۴ جورج اورول خیلی تخیلی و دور از ذهن نوشته شدهاگر فکر می کنید که جای بدی به دنیا اومدیداگر فکر می کنید که مردم کره شمالی ربات های راضی ای هستند که در عکس ها می بینیدو اگر از قحطی و فاجعه ای که به بار میاره هیچ تصوری جز گرسنگی نداریدباید این کتاب رو بخونیدشش فرد کاملا متفاوت داستان زندگی و فرار خودشون از بسته ترین کشور جهان رو با جزییاتی توضیح میدن که در طول کتاب می تونی در کره شمالی مسافر باشی. نظام کمونیستی سخت گیر، قحطی و محروم بودن از ساده ترین امکاناتی که انسان قرن ۲۱ در اختیار داره. ماشین، تلفن،اینترنت،لوازم برقی...برقمردمی که سال ها فقط صبح و شب به تامین غذا فکر می کنند، نسل قورباغه هارو منقرض می کنند، از علف ها و برگ ها تغذیه می کنند و برنج رو ارزشمندترین غذا و حتی گاهی دست نیافتنی می دونند. بچه ها و بزرگ هایی که از قحطی می میرند و سو تغذیه ای که کره شمالی هارو بسیار کوتاه تر و ضعیف تر از هم نسل های کره جنوبی شون کردهکشور های همسایه، چین و کره جنوبی، به قدرت های اقتصاد و صنعت جهان تبدیل می شن وقتی کره شمالی هنوز در یک قرن پیش یخ زده ولیحتی کمونیزم،گرسنگی و عقب ماندگی فرهنگی نمی تونه یک سری چیز ها کامل از بین ببره. زوجی که ۱۰ سال از تاریکی شب های بدون برق استفاده می کنند و قدم می زنند. عشق به سینما رفتن و فیلم دیدن با وجود فیلم های دولتیه تبلیغاتی از بین نمیرهپشت عکس های سرد و زننده یا ساختگی کره شمالی زندگی هنوز در جریانه، هرچند به سختیبه شدت خواندنی،انقدر که ۴.۵ ستاره به ۵ گرد شد۹۵.۱۲.۱۸

  • Iris P
    2019-02-20 00:50

    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaBarbara Demick is an American author and journalist"Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world. Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party. We are all brothers and sisters. Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid, our father is here. We have nothing to envy in this world."Popular song taught to North Korean school children praising the Dear Leader***********************************************Six years after its original publication, Barbara Demick’s remarkable work of investigative journalism remains a very compelling, reader-friendly account of what is like to live and escape from one of the most brutal and repressive states in the world.Reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, felt like stepping into a large-scale re-enactment of George Orwell's 1984. If somebody had intentionally set out to recreate the famous novel, they couldn't have done a better job than what this dystopian-like regime has become.The subtitle of the book might as well have been called “How to make it as a Dictator in the 21st Century”. For anybody that has such aspirations, this might be the best how-to manual available.Be aware though, as despotic regimes go, the Kim dynasty, with their 70-year ruling over the so-called Hermit Kingdom, is a tough act to follow. Here are some pointers on how to do it:• Foster a cult of personality that raises you to a God-like status allowing you to harness the power of faith, invoke religious sentiments among the people and manipulate them at your will.• Enforce a policy requiring that every household ostentatiously displays your photo. The Public Standards Police should make surprise visits to ensure strict compliance.• When a devastating famine hits your country due to your failed economic policies, allow that up to 2 Million or roughly 10% of your people die of hunger. The first ones to perish would be the sick, the children and the elderly.• Establish work labor camps that could manage as many as 200,000 political prisoners or the equivalent of 2% of your country’s population. Citizens might be taken to these camps for crimes as petty as failing to go to work. • Use any medium available to relentlessly deliver propaganda, especially to children, demonizing the foreign “bastards”, namely, America, Japan, and South Korea. • Use the threat of nuclear and biological weapons to coerce those same “foreign bastards” countries into providing billions of dollars in food aid to your country without any pre-conditions. • Talking about weapons, be willing to spend up to 25% of your country’s GDP (versus the average 5% used by most developed countries) to sustain your military army and infrastructure. • Make sure the population is blocked from getting access to any news or communications from the outside world. If they ever learn that their counterparts in the south have an income per capita 20 times higher than theirs, that your infant mortality is 7 times higher and that their life expectancy is at least 10 years longer, you could lose control over the people and who knows where that might lead.So this is how you attempt to control a country of 24 million people, who continue to be the victims of their leaders utopian Stalinist fantasies.Chol (a pseudonym), a nine-year-old North Korean boy, shows a picture of the place where he was raised by his grandparents in North Korea- Photo by Katharina HesseIn interviews, Demick has mentioned that her motivation to write this book was to find answers to questions many of us have: What happens to people living in the most totalitarian of regimes? Do they lose their essential humanity? What were they thinking behind the blank stares of the video footage we saw of mass gymnastics or goose-stepping soldiers? Were these people anything like us?Nothing To Envy also gives the reader a condensed history of the Korean peninsula, how it got fractured and North Korea’s role as it relates to the major powers in the region, both with its allies (China and Russia) and its foes (Japan and South Korea).Primarily though, the book focuses on the plight of the North Korean people right after the economic collapse of the late 1990’s and the brutal famine that followed.Demick does a remarkable job at humanizing this story by introducing us to six North Koreans that fled the industrial city of Chongjin. There is even a love story, albeit one of the star crossed-lovers variety, as alas, a happy ending was not meant to be.The author portrays these men and women with profound respect and sensitivity and painstakingly re-creates their everyday lives in amazing detail. Inevitably, one by one realizes that their government has betrayed them and that all they’ve been told throughout their whole lives have been propaganda and lies.Hating starts early- North Korean children line up to view anti-U.S. propaganda posters One of the people we meet is Mi-ran, a sensible kindergarten teacher who is considered to have "tainted blood" because her father was born in South Korea.Hers is one of the most heartbreaking of all these stories. As an elementary teacher, she is expected to teach her pupils the blessings of being a North Korean, the best nation on earth, while she watches them die of starvation. Jun-sang, Mi-ran's boyfriend, has Japanese relatives that help supplement his family's income. This allows him to live a relatively privileged life. He attends one of the best universities in Pyongyang, and as part of an intellectual elite enjoys some small perks that include access to western literary classics such as Gone with the Wind and One Hundred Years of Solitude.A 20-year-old refugee from North Korea in a farmhouse in northern China hides his identity- Photo by Katharina HesseWe also get to know Kim Ji-Eun, a 28-year-old pediatrician at a small district hospital who has been a lifetime staunch supporter of the North Korea’s Worker’s Party.She begins to question her loyalty to the party after her father dies during the famine and her superiors give orders that compromise her Hippocratic oath.The relentless search by ordinary citizens for food from any conceivable source - weeds, frogs, and insects - is a heartbreaking and constant theme of these stories. The accounts of Mi-Ran and Dr. Kim are particularly difficult to read because they involved starving children as well as the elderly.One of the most powerful scenes in the book happens after Doctor Kim, who has just crossed the river into China, bone-tired, starving and dripping wet stumbles into the courtyard of a farmhouse. She is confused to see a bowl of rice and meat on the ground, just an hour out of North Korea she realizes that dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea.Kim Jeong-Ya (a pseudonym) a Chinese activist helps North Koreans defectors cross safely to China- Photo by Katharina Hesse The majority of people become defectors by crossing the Tumen River which divides the two countries. That is not an easy undertaking since the Chinese authorities monitor the border and routinely repatriate defectors back to North Korea.They also have to live with the reality that their escape may put the families they left behind in great danger as the government consistently retaliates by placing them in labor camps. The customary term is anywhere from six months to three years.Reading the accounts of the defectors seems to suggest that a great deal of North Koreans is privately very aware and cynical about the leadership of their country and that they only play along out of fear of repercussions.The Tumen River - Photo by Katharina Hesse Nothing I’ve read here or from any other source, suggests that this regime will collapse anytime soon. But in recent years certain improvements have surfaced and the country has experienced something of an economic revival, at least by North Korean standards. This is mostly the result of the constant flow of information coming from China and South Korea that is making its way into the North. Over a million people now have mobile phones, many have personal computers (the caveat is that there's no internet access), there are department stores with foreign goods and fancy restaurants in Pyongyang and the government has decided to "tolerate" small farmer markets.I suspect that if you are a well-informed reader on North Korea issues, Nothing to Envy might not provide any significant amount of new information, if like me you are looking for a great introduction to this most secretive and fascinating of places, I would definitely recommend it.***********************************************In 2014 PBS's Frontline produced a riveting documentary called "Secret State of North Korea". I think it makes for a great companion to this book and it provides an updated picture of North Korea and the changes that have been taking place there in the last few years.You can find a link here. As of the date of this review the program is also available on Netflix.You can find the majority of the pictures on this review here.

  • Ahmad Sharabiani
    2019-02-22 17:59

    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demickعنوان: افسوس نمیخوریم - زندگی مردم عادی در کره شمالی؛ نویسنده: باربارا دمیک؛ مترجم: حسین شهرابی؛ مینا جوشقانی؛ تهران، تندیس، 1393؛ در 414 ص؛ شابک: 9786001821349؛همه بسیار از دولت کره ی شمالی شنیده ایم و شنیده ایم چه تنگناها و فشارهای باورنکردنی و احمقانه برای مردمانش میسازد. اما از خود مردم، از زندگی عادی مردم در این دیکتاتوری (مزرعه ی حیوانات گونه) کمتر میدانیم. مردم کره ی شمالی چطور عاشق میشوند؟ کمبودهای غذایی و قحطیها را چگونه تاب میآورند؟ چه فیلمهایی میبینند؟ نویسنده این کتاب میکوشد از طریق روایت زندگی پنج انسان عادی، که از کره ی شمالی گریخته اند؛ تصویری دیگر اما بسیار غریب به دست دهد. نویسنده میگوید: در عکسها و تلویزیون، مردم کره ی شمالی مردمی ماشینی به نظر میرسند، که همیشه در حال ژره رفتن با یونیفرم، یا اجرای حرکات گروهی ژیمناستیک، برای اعلام وفاداری به پیشوای کره ی شمالی هستند. با نگاهی دقیق به تصاویری از این دست، سعی دارم از واقعیت ورای آن چهره های تهی خبر دهم...؛ا. شربیانی

  • Maciek
    2019-02-20 22:01

    On December seventeenth in 2011, Kim Jong-il has died. Known to the world as the supreme leader of the world's most closed society, the "hermit kingdom" which encompasses the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, he has received the posthumous titles of the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission. His death has been mourned by the population in a dramatic and uncontrolled way, with people crying helplessly and expressing their despair. One might wonder how much of it was real. Kim's father, Kim Il-sung is well known for being the country's Eternal President. Both are treated with great reverence. Will Kim Jong-un, the current leader of North Korea, complete the Trinity?There is a video on YouTube titled "Good Morning Pyongyang" (which you can see if you click here) that can serve as a good illustration of what North Korea is about. It opens with a Pyongyang sunset, slowly revealing tall concrete buildings and some cranes. One immediately notices the complete lack of automobiles of any sort; if a person appears, he or she is walking. However, what immediately captures the attention is an image of a female traffic controller. Dressed up in full regalia, she is standing at a traffic control post in the middle of the street, under a big umbrella . Although there are no cars and the streets are basically empty, she performs her job: turning around, ordering throngs of invisible cars to pass, stop, pass again, stop again, from left to right and right to left, from all sides, never stopping, never resting, forever busy managing the nonexistent traffic. I think that this image better than any other raises the question of how democratic the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea really is, and is it really a kind of society which takes good care of its citizens?North Korea seems to be the country which fell out of the world, as you can see if you'll take a look at an satellite photograph of the Far East taken at nighttime, you'll see Japan and South Korea, and even China; but you'll also see a black spot. That's DRPK. It's literally a black hole, where 23 million of people have to manage their daily lives, often living without what we take for granted: running water, heating...media, entertainment, freedom.Nothing to Envy is a record of six refugees from DRPK who fled to the South and their experiences of living in both countries. Althought the book is completely gripping, it is also very hard to read at times - remember that this is non fiction, and all of this actually happened - the stories of the defectors are very moving, like the story of two young North Koreans who fell in love, and thanks to the complete blackout were able to take long walks, and very tragic - stories of people dying from starvation (can you believe that during the time from 1994 to 1998 as much as 80,000 (that's eighty thousand) to 3,500,000 (that's three and a half million) people died in a famine? Through the individual lives of these defectors we are able to see a broader picture of life inside the DRPK, and although the society is a collective one the theme of individuality is the one which carries the book: each defector has a separate and fascinating story to tell, shocking and gripping. They're escape to the South is not the end of their problems, as one of the defectors mourns that she has left her children behind; some North Koreans find themselves unable to exist in a society which we would call "normal"; two soldiers from the North who accidentally crossed the border have asked to be send back to the DRPK. The book shows how an individual is affected by an opressive regime, and how a whole nation can be brainwashed to accept an ideology. A nation where people die from hunger, but which is among the world's most militarized nations; which disappears from sight during the night, but has active nuclear and space programs. A nation where ordinary lives have been turned into a grim horror story or a macabre joke; where stories like these take place every day.This is a book I can't recommend enough for people interested in North Korea, because of the unique individual perspective it gives. It's never maudlin, sentimental or manipulative. It is honest, and brutally so. It is heartbreaking when one thinks at how many lives are still trapped, and moreover don't even know that they are trapped. Nothing to Envy shows how people believed in their country, only to discover that they have been told lies. One might call them naive, but in what position are we to make this judgement, in our conditioned apartments with broadband internet connections? In a world where we are able to talk about this? Imagine being born and brought up in a subterranean bunker, where the outside world is barely mentioned or brought down with negativity. This is the world that North Koreans live in today, at this moment, and this is a book which deserves to be read for people to understant it.

  • Lilo
    2019-03-07 01:20

    This book is a must read — an absolute MUST READ! It is inexcusable not to be informed about what has been going on in North Korea. What we hear on the news is just simply not enough. There are great reviews of this book on Goodreads. So I won’t elaborate about the contents of this book. What I would like to do is compare The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (in short DPRK, or just simply North Korea) to Hitler’s Third Reich.Upfront: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is just as much democratic as Hitler’s “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” (National Socialist German Worker’s Party) was a Socialist Worker’s Party. Both designations are misnomers with the clear purpose to fool the population. Brutal dictatorships like to disguise themselves with terms that are well received. The word “democratic” had a good reputation after WWII, and the word “socialist” rang well in the ears of workers during the 1920s and 1930s.I’ll take the liberty of using LeeAnne’s wonderful review of “Nothing to Envy”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7... as basis for my comparison of the two oppressive regimes.LeeAnne writes: “North Koreans live in the most isolated bubble in the world”. This is very true. North Koreans cannot correspond with anyone outside of North Korea (with certain exceptions of relatives in Japan); there isn’t even any mail service across the borders. During the Third Reich, Germans could correspond with anyone in foreign countries but might have drawn the attention of the Gestapo with such correspondence. Letters might have been opened, read, and censored. Were the contents criticizing the regime, the writer might have landed in a concentration camp.There is no Internet in North Korea, and cell phones are banned. Well, there was no Internet and there were no cell phones at the time of the Third Reich. There were even hardly any private phones. To make a phone call (usually reserved for emergencies), people had to go to the post office (unless they had any business owners as friends who let them use their phones). However, most urgent notifications were handled with telegrams. And for normal long-distance communication, regular mail was the way to go. Phones and mail were, of course, subject to wiretapping and interception. And I assume that there were informers at most (or possibly even all) post offices.It is forbidden in North Korea to tune in on foreign TV and radio stations. The usual punishment for breaking this law is to be sent to the gulag (or concentration camp, whatever name for this North Korean institution you prefer).It was forbidden in Hitler’s Germany to listen to the BBC or any other foreign radio station. (There was, of course, no TV.) Depending on individual implication of this law, noncompliance could earn the offender a heavy fine (best case scenario), a prison sentence, a concentration camp stay of indefinite length, or even a death sentence, unless the Gestapo would simplify the issue and shoot the offenders without any court procedure. — My family members took great risks by listening to the BBC. When my mother realized that I had become aware of it that they were listening to a foreign radio station, she cautioned me not to tell anybody, and especially not any Nazi neighbors. She stressed that if we were found out, the Gestapo would come and shoot us all, and if I happened to be spared, I would land in an orphanage. The problem: Unbeknownst of the danger, I, then 2 1/2 years old, had already told the two daughters of an SS relative of our Nazi landlady, who were 3 and 5 years old. Their father was a murderous SS criminal, who had bragged about throwing Jewish children onto the pavement from 4th-floor windows. Fortunately, the two girls never told their SS father (their mother was a decent person) nor our landlady; otherwise, I would not be here to tell. (These girls were not the smartest and did not seem to be interested in politics.) I spent the remaining three years of the war expecting the Gestapo to come any day to shoot us. I never told any of my family members. They all died without ever learning that our lives had hung on a thread.There is no free speech in North Korea. The most harmless remark criticizing the leader or the regime will be punished by declaring the person who made the remark an “enemy of the state” and sending him/her to the gulag for life. The same thing happens to people who tell jokes about the leader.There was no free speech in Hitler’s Germany either. Here, too, a person who criticized Hitler, the regime, or Nazi ideology would be declared an “enemy of the state” and would land in a concentration camp. Telling a Hitler-joke would draw the same punishment. And there is, at least, one case where a woman who told such a joke landed on the gallows. — My parents and their friends did tell Hitler jokes, and they were only so lucky that I (who I understood more than my family members were aware of) did not tell (or attempt to tell) any of those jokes to any Nazi neighbors. My adoptive grandmother (biological grand-aunt), called “Oma”, was very talkative (I must have inherited her genes :-)), so she once carelessly remarked to a not-so-well-known acquaintance: “Does this private [referring to Hitler’s low military rank in WWI] really think he can win this war?” The acquaintance turned out to be an informer. This remark was not only derogatory of Hitler, it also was a clear case of “Wehrkraftzersetzung” (= defeatism / undermining of military morale). Oma had to report to an SS official. Normal procedure would have been to turn her over to the Gestapo, which would, then, have hauled her to Dachau, the next concentration camp, or, more likely, would have passed her on to the “Volksgericht”, Hitler’s “kangaroo court”, which might have sentenced her to death because “Wehrkraftzersetzung” was a very serious offense, which was usually awarded with capital punishment. Yet Oma was lucky - VERY LUCKY! The SS official was the son of a farmer, whom Oma’s late husband (then, head of the local Internal Revenue Office) had saved from losing his farm by extending his taxes or even paying them out of his own pocket. The SS guy was grateful; he wasn’t going to send his family’s benefactor’s widow to the gallows. So he threw the report of the informer into the waste basket and released Oma with the advice to, in future, hold her tongue.There is no free assembly in North Korea.There was no free assembly in Hitler’s Germany.Without free assembly it is next to impossible to start a revolt against a regime. How many people can secretly meet in someone’s bedroom? (And how can one organize a revolution in a bomb-tight police state without being found out and executed before the revolt can draw momentum?)There is no religious freedom in North Korea, and North Korea’s rulers (dead or alive) are worshipped as gods. There was religious freedom in Hitler’’s Germany — sort of. The Christian churches (Catholic and Lutheran) were strong. Hitler couldn’t dare to abolish them, so he used them for his own purposes. And once he felt that he no longer needed them, Hitler started to harass them and persecute any cleric who spoke up against Nazi ideology or Nazi practices, such as violence against Jews. — A grand-uncle of mine, a Catholic priest, whose parish was in a small village, kept ranting against the Nazis from the pulpit. After he had become too daring, his bishop forced him to retire so that he would not end up in Dachau. (He had already caught the attention of the Gestapo.) — Had it not been for the remaining power of the Christian Churches, Hitler would have also been built up as a god. He was already referred to as “messiah”, “successor of Jesus”, and “unser Heiland” (“our savior”), a term that had, so far, only been used for Jesus. Apart from this, “blood weddings” had started to replace church weddings. These were ridiculous, pompous celebrations that kept referring to Hitler similar to the way church weddings referred to God. (The murderous SS relative of our landlady had gotten married with such a pompous, pseudo-religious “blood wedding”, for which the organ had been confiscated from my hometown’s “Spitalkirche” (= nursing home church).There is no free movement allowed to North Koreans, not even within their country. There weren’t any travel restrictions within Hitler’s Germany, but during the war, it became difficult to leave the country without being arrested at the border.There are no workers’ rights in North Korea. I don’t think there were any workers’ rights in Hitler’s Germany either, and if there were, they were just on paper. There is no independent media in North Korea. TV, radio, and newspapers are state-controlled. Instead of news and information, they spread propaganda, brainwash, and outright lies. — Propaganda and brainwash has turned the vast majority of North Koreans into ignorant robots.There wasn’t any independent media in Hitler’s Germany either. Radio and newspapers were state-controlled, and there wasn’t any TV. News were tampered with and falsified. There was plenty of propaganda and brainwash, and there were also plenty of outright lies. So, for instance, when Hitler invaded Poland, the radio reported, right after: “Seit 8 Uhr wird zurueckgeschossen.” (“Since 8 o’clock [a.m.], fire is being returned.”), claiming that Polish troops had attacked German borders and that German troops had eventually returned the fire. — Propaganda and brainwash had turned roughly half of the German population into Nazis. (There is no way to obtain any exact figures because NSDAP membership wasn’t equivalent to political opinion. Not every true Nazi was a party member [some just never bothered to join], and not every party member was a true Nazi. Some non-Nazis joined the party to further their career or not to lose their jobs. And there were other opportunistic reasons to join the NSDAP.)It is estimated that about one fifth of the North Korean population has starved to death during the 1990s. People ate tree bark; that is, if they could still find any. Those who weren’t able to tend a private vegetable garden, if only so small, had the least chances to survive.There was no famine during the Third Reich. However food was very scarce once the war had started, and those people who had to solely rely on the food obtainable with food ration cards would be in serious trouble. Not only was the amount of food allotted with ration cards insufficient; the ration cards were rather useless when the food wasn’t available in the stores. (I should mention, however, that the food/goods supply differed a bit from region to region.) Most people resorted to illegally trading goods with farmers and to foraging in the woods for wild mushrooms and berries. Older, fragile, or poor city dwellers, who weren’t able to make it to the country or didn’t have any bartering goods, would suffer badly from malnutrition or, in some cases, even starve to death. Many such pitiable people raided garbage cans to search for potato peels and other food remnants that more fortunate citizens (some of them privileged Nazis) had discarded. And an unknown number of city dwellers succumbed to illnesses that would not have killed them had they not been undernourished. Since there was no chemical fertilizer and hardly any livestock in North Korea during the famine (and may not even be today), human feces were (and might still be?) collected on a large scale to fertilize state-grown crops. There were huge campaigns, assigning people to these dirty jobs and have them carry the buckets filled with feces for miles, on foot, to collection plants. Hygiene was (or is?) obviously a non-issue.Even though there was no famine in Germany, there was no chemical fertilizer available for crops because all chemical fertilizer was used to make explosives. There weren’t sufficient amounts of animal manure. Thus, human feces (while not collected in buckets from toilets, as done in North Korea, but siphoned from outhouses and sceptic tanks) were also used on commercial crops and in private vegetable gardens. This resulted in people getting internal parasites. (I still remember being dewormed with carrot juice.)There is severe fuel shortage in North Korea. Only few institutions (amongst them schools) and private homes can be heated in winter. There are no street lights, and the availability of electricity is limited to very few hours weekly. People have cut down all accessible trees for firewood. Parks are stripped bare. Private cars and motorcycles are nonexistent.There was also considerable fuel shortage in Germany during WWII. Coal and firewood was rationed. Electricity was off at certain times. “Kohlenklau” (coal thief)-posters were all about, vilifying people who weren’t frugal in their use of coal. Kids ran after coal wagons, picking up after them. People went to the woods to gather firewood and, yet I never heard of any trees in parks being cut down. The only cars I was aware of in my hometown (of some 5,000 inhabitants) belonged to the two family doctors and to Nazi party officials. (There also might have been an ambulance, but I never saw it.) — All in all, I would say that the fuel shortage in North Korea is way worse than Hitler’s Germany had ever experienced. — Yet we also suffered during the cold months. There wasn’t enough fuel to heat any bedrooms. Thick feather beds and hot water bottles were a necessity. Water was only heated as needed. The hot water boiler in the bathroom was only heated up every second Saturday (for every family member to take a bath). And the living room temperature could only be kept at minimum comfort.There isn’t supposed to be any unemployment in “the communistic workers’ paradise” of North Korea, but there is (or rather, eventually came to be).There was little unemployment in Hitler’s Germany, once Hitler started with rearmament (to prepare for WWII).When anyone is shipped to the gulag in North Korea, his or her blood relatives (parents, grandparents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles) are usually shipped along with him or her (unless they are party members in very good standing or they are protected by some party big shot). Hitler had also imposed “Sippenhaft” (liability of all members of a family for the “crimes” of one member). Yet he did not differentiate between blood relatives and non-blood relatives.Sippenhaft of any kind makes it rather impossible to oppose a regime. Even when someone is ready to risk his own life, he or she is rarely ready to risk the lives of family members and relatives.LeeAnne writes: “People are expected to work 7 days a week, even if they are unemployed. It is not unusual to be employed and working 7 days a week but not receive a paycheck for years.”I don’t think that Hitler’s “Reichsarbeitsdienst” was an equivalent of North Korean practices. I just know that it was voluntary before 1939 and compulsory after 1939. And I do not know if there was any financial remuneration.North Korea does not allow everyone to join the North Korean Workers’ Party (the only existing party). Being allowed to join this party is a privilege, and applicants are not only required to have a history of absolute loyalty to the regime but must also have a spotless family background. Career advancement is only possible with party membership.The NSDAP also did not allow everyone to join. Yet there were few restrictions. Unless someone had a criminal record, a politically suspect past, or politically suspect family members or relatives, they did not have a problem to join “The Party” (the only existing party, after all other parties had been banned once Hitler had come into power). In Hitler's Germany, too, party membership furthered careers.The living conditions in North Korean gulags (concentration camps) are horrific. There are different types of camps. Those for minor offenses offer a tiny chance of survival. Those for higher graded offenses are designed for life sentences, and due to the conditions in these camps, the convicted can be rather sure that their lives won’t last very long. Hitler’s concentration camps were similar. Ordinary camps, like Dachau, were not necessarily meant for life sentences. Jews (and also some non-Jews) were shipped from Dachau to death camps, such as Auschwitz. Ordinary inmates (like unimportant socialists, communists, or “enemies of the state” [who might have told Hitler jokes or criticized the regime) were kept indefinitely or released and rearrested at random. They had some chance of survival, yet many died of starvation, exposure, or untreated disease, or were outright murdered by sadistic SS personnel. And had the war ended later, only a fraction of the inmates could have been expected to survive. Most of those who were early released by the Nazis or freed by the Allies at the end of the war, suffered life-long health damage. — What happened in death camps was worse. Those inmates who weren’t useful as slave workers landed in the gas chambers, and slave workers were worked to death (or sent to the gas chambers once no longer useful), unless they were lucky enough to survive until the end of the war. Even then, most survivors perished during so-called death marches. The main difference between North Korean and German concentration camps is that the North Korean ones don’t have gas chambers, yet some of the inmates may wish that they had, for their tortured existence cannot really be called “life”.Summa summarum: North Korea and Hitler’s Germany deserve both to be called “hell on earth”, North Korea is just a little different kind of hell. You really would not want to have to choose. (As an Aryan non-Nazi, I would consider Hitler’s Germany the lesser of two terrible evils. As a Jew, I would not be so sure.) Hell is known for containing devils who make hell what it is, and North Korea as well as Hitler’s Germany have/had plenty of those.Something else: North Korea, even though a small country, has a huge and highly efficient military. Every North Korean male has to serve 10 years in the military. This makes a lot of military experts. And North Korean’s leadership pumps immense sums of money into armament. Thus, North Korea’s military force has to be taken seriously.Hitler’s Germany was also a small country, yet it was a very powerful military force. Maybe Hitler’s Germany wasn’t taken seriously enough because of Germany’s relatively small geographic size. If this should have been the case, such mistake should not be repeated with North Korea.The question remains: What can the outside world do against such hellish boils on this globe, which not only treat their own citizens in a barbaric way but also pose a serious danger to the rest of the world?There was a time when Hitler could have been stopped by the governments of other countries, especially the U.S. This was before he proceeded with the rearmament. The chance was missed. We all know the result.There was a time when North Korea’s regime could have been reigned in (or ousted) by the Chinese government. (Yet the Chinese appreciated North Korea as a buffer between China and the Western-oriented South Korea.) The chance was missed. Meanwhile, China feels herself threatened by North Korea. Once a totalitarian, oppressive, belligerent regime is armed to the teeth, trying to stop it means war (in our day and age probably nuclear war).So what can we do at this point? I don’t know. Does anyone have an answer?

  • Carol
    2019-03-05 23:05

    Correct, 4 stars. I know, I know, I don't give stars but I've decided that when I have little to say or add to the many superior reviews of a book, perhaps the stars and a few words from me will suffice. I have been meaning to read something, anything about North Korea for some time now. With the strife between our countries it seems paramount now. What better than to hear personal stories from the people who live there to give me a better understanding of mindset?Though Barbara Demick's book was published in 2010 and many of the people she follows tell their stories from the 90's, I believe I have a better picture of the country and people as a whole. This does not mean I can stop here. I really need to read more and if you have a suggestion I'm open to it. If I took anything at all from this book it is that there is nothing to envy" in North Korea, but much to learn from the ordinary lives of its inhabitants. Powerful reading.

  • Michael Gerald
    2019-03-07 17:02

    If you thought that George Orwell's satires Animal Farm and 1984 are just works of fiction, think again. Look at a map and find North Korea. That's a present-day, real-life Animal Farm.Barbara Demick's book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, gives us a peek of a spot of hell here on Earth. Based mostly on interviews with 6 North Koreans who defected to South Korea and from the author's own experience, this book takes the reader into an often difficult read of how North Koreans are being lied to, brainwashed, imprisoned, starved, and killed by their own atheist, Communist government, while their dynastic dictators, the murderous Kims and their cronies continue to live in the lap of luxury. And yet, Communists and other leftists around the world continue to turn a blind eye to this evil. Well, maybe, not surprisingly.A mother scrounging for edible weeds and tree bark to augment her family's meager diet. A teacher without a salary still being forced to work, just to see her students drop out one by one and never seeing them again, wiped out by starvation. People with stunted bodies and minds begging or even dropping dead on the streets. And the most perverse part of it is that the dictatorship tells them that they owe their lives to the "loving generosity" of Kim il Sung, Kim Jong il, Kimchi, Kim this, Kim that. And to even speak something bad about your situation or against the Kims can earn you a one trip ticket to the numerous gulags or prison camps scattered across the countryside. Paradise on earth, indeed.What is common about the defectors' testimonies is the degree of resourcefulness that most North Koreans display just to survive. To survive, they have to break North Korean law. To survive, they sometimes steal. In North Korea's case, breaking the "law" to survive cannot be considered a crime anymore. With the North Korean Communist dictatorship itself deliberately starving its people so they don't have the physical strength to resist, breaking the "law" is not just imperative to survive; it is the right thing to do. The atheist Communists will eventually kill you through starvation or execution. The ordinary North Korean citizens are not the criminals; it is the dictatorship that is criminal, a gang of liars, thieves, and murderers.The silver lining in this darkness is the stories of escape of North Korean defectors and their eventual resettlement in South Korea. The world which their government forcibly covered before from their eyes and their lives is now there to see and live in, with all the freedoms, opportunities, and lives that they were denied in the North.I now include in my prayers people in countries which do not have basic freedoms like what we have, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, etc. Freedoms that some people in free societies tend to take for granted, abuse, or even denigrate. Democratic societies are not perfect, but I am sure oppressed peoples around the world would glady trade their lot for one like ours. I just hope that the world can come to an agreement and take action to help save North Koreans and take collective action not just to contain the illegitimate, lying, and murderous North Korean dictatorship, but actually put an end to it. The civilized world has a responsibility to protect. The regime will eventually fall. It is not a question of if; it is a matter of when.

  • Caroline
    2019-03-03 18:20

    Marvellous. I would say a must read.This book has several threads.... Firstly it discusses the general idiosyncrasies of life in North Korea under the guru gaze of Kim il-sung and then Kim Jong-il. Think Gulliver's Travels mixed with Alice in Wonderland, then give it a good shake.... I could hardly believe what I was reading. It's another world, and not in a good way. Secondly, it follows the lives of several people who ultimately defect to South Korea. These people give us great insight into life in North Korea. They also give us insights into the major challenges of being a refugee - particularly in taking the massive step from the repressed society of North Korea, into the freedom and modernity of South Korea. Their stories make a great contribution to the book, bringing us a wonderfully personal and intimate view of wider events. Thirdly, it describes the economic failures and famine of the 1990s, followed by continuing under-nourishment in the 21st century. Starvation, poverty, desperation - plus resourcefulness and an unbelievable tenacity and will to survive. Lots of people didn't make it though.And fourthly it describes just what a horrible warmongering little nation this is, thanks to the obsessions of its leaders. Most industrialized nations spend less than 5% their gross national product on the military. North Korea's defence budget is 25%. It keeps one million men under arms, that's the fourth largest military compilation in the world - and this for a tiny country, no bigger than Pennsylvania. Anti-American and anti-Japanese propaganda flourishes, even for schoolchildren, and this in spite of the fact that much of its humanitarian aid has come from the US.For me reading about North Korea was like reading about a crazy sect, headed by a power-hungry, omnipresent leader. Except this is a sect of almost twenty-five million people. I thought this book was superbly constructed and well written, giving an excellent picture of what life is like for the people in this troubled country. Highly recommended.Some notes for my own record......mostly just extracts from the book(view spoiler)[Communication between North and South KoreaThere is none. Unlike the situation that existed between East and West Germany - there is no connection via telephone, no postal service, no email. Communication between North Korea and the worldAll foreign films, books, newspapers, radio and television are banned in NK, so the North Koreans have no idea what the rest of the world is like.Dearth of carsPrivate ownership of cars is largely illegal, not that anyone could afford them.Female modestyIn the past the Korean culture stressed extreme modesty. This still exists in North Korea. In the 1970s and 80s women were forbidden to ride bicycles on grounds of modesty. Today they are forbidden to wear blouses without sleeves, and there are instructions about how they may wear their hair. It is forbidden for the hemline of skirts to be above the knee.----------------------------------------------------------* HISTORY:1910 Japan annexed Korea.They disposed the last of the Korean emperors. Then they stamped out Korean culture and superimposed their own. The Koreans hated the Japanese.August 15, 1945. Japan surrendered to the Allies.America divided up Korea, slapping a line arbitrarily across the country, and gave the north to Russia to administrate. 1950 - 1953 The Korean War.In many ways war was inevitable. Both sides claimed to be the legitimate government of Korea.As it was, North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. North Korea was backed by China. South Korea was backed by America and 15 other countries in the UN. It ended in 1953. Two years of fighting had produced only frustration and a stalemate. Nearly three million people were dead and the peninsular lay in ruins, but the border was pretty much the same as before. 1991 The dissolution of The Soviet Union. Followed by a decade of famine in North KoreaWith the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost its its main source of economic aid. Primarily it lost access to cheap fuel oil. The Soviet Union used to be its communist ally, and without the USSR, North Korea's inefficient economy collapsed. ---------------------------------------------------------------The economy of North Korea and South KoreaUntil the late 1960s the North Korean economy looked much more healthy than the economy of South Korea. South Korea is now infinitely better off. It's the 13th richest economy in the world.*The Caste system.In 1958 Kim il-sung ordered up an elaborate project to classify all North Koreans by their political reliability. There were 51 sections that were put together into three broad categories. The core classThe wavering classThe hostile class.Neighbour renounced neighbour. Each person was put through eight background checks, taking into account the background of parents, grandparents and even second cousins. This system continued into the 1970s and beyond.Adoration of the leader* Kim Il-sung wanted love. Murals and posters show him surrounded by pink-cheeked children, looking at him with adoration. "He didn't want to be Joseph Stalin, he wanted to be Santa Claus". He wanted to be regarded as a father, in the Confucian sense of commanding respect and love. Broadcasters would speak of him breathlessly, in the manner of Pentecostal preachers. North Korean newspapers carried stories of supernatural phenomena related to him ...he caused trees to bloom and snow to melt.If Kim Il-sung was God, then his son, Kim Jong-il, was presented as the son of god. His birth was reputedly heralded by a radiant star in the sky, and the appearance of a beautiful double rainbow. Every school had a shine room to Kim Il-sung.Christianity.Once in power, Kim Il-sung closed all the churches and banned the Bible.Personal financesNo-one earned salaries, rather everything was given out by the government. People had ration cards to get their food and other essentials. A small allowance could be 'earned' for extras like movies, haircuts, bus tickets, newspapers and make up. FarmingAs in other Communist countries, farming was communal.Brain-washing.Indoctrination began in infancy, during the 14-hours days spent in factory day-care centres; and for the subsequent 50 years, every song, film, newspaper article and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung. The country was also hermatically sealed to keep out anything that might cast double upon his divinity. Who could possibly resist? People had to devote a wall in their houses to display portraits of the leader and his son. The Workers' Party distributed the portraits free of charge, along with a white cloth to be stored in a box beneath them. It could only be used to clean the portraits. About once a month, inspectors from the Public Standards Police would drop by to check on the cleanliness of the portraits.Children didn't celebrate their own birthdays, but those of Kim Il-sung on April 15th, and Kim Jon-il on February 16th. These days were national holidays. There would be meat in people's ration packages. The electricity would go on, and there would be 2 lbs of sweets for each of the children.Famine.This was worst during the 1990s, but even now many North Koreans are undernourished.Housewives started to pick weeks and wild grasses, leaves, corn cobs, husks and stems to add to their soups. This was okay for adults, but not for the tender stomachs of children.Children were born very tiny, with wasting disease. Young children often had terrible constipation, older one's had pellegra. They often died from illness that in the West are minor issues; this was due to their low resistance. Their mothers didn't produce enough milk.Adults became vulnerable to things like tuberculosis and typhoid.Everything that could be eaten was eaten. Even the frog population was wiped out.People sold everything they had in order to try and buy food.By 1998 an estimate 600,000 - 2 million North Koreans had died of starvation. As much as 10% of the population.The famine ended in 1998, but people were still undernourished.The average 17 year-old boy is 5" shorter in North Korea than he is in South Korea.Foreign Aid.Between 1996 - 2005 NK would receive about $2.4 billion in food aid....most of it from America. But as much as the North Korean regime was willing to accept foreign food, it rejected the foreigners that came along with it. Various charities withdrew from North Korea on the grounds they couldn't operate there. They didn't know if help was reaching the intended recipients. Two charities that dropped out were "Action Contre la Faim" (Action Against Hunger), and Doctors Without Borders.Some food reached orphanages and kindergartens, but much of it ended up in military stockpiles or got sold on the black market.Economy collapsesThis happened in 1995.Per capita income in 1991 = $2,460Per capita income in 1995 = $719.Free enterprise.The famine encouraged free enterprise. People were unable to survive with official government handouts. They just had to try and practise a private trade, eg growing their own food (where possible), and selling any surplus at market, even though it was illegal. The military (who were themselves starving) would sell humanitarian aid to the starving populace.Human rights.Human rights organisations estimated that 200,000 people were confined to a gulag of prison camps, and that North Korea had the worst human rights record in the world.Defectors from North Korea to ChinaBy 2000 the Chinese were very against North Korean defectors. They feared they would take away jobs from Chinese citizens and upset the ethnic balance of north-east China. They said the North Koreans who came there were "economic migrants" and not entitled to protection under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.They set up periodic campaigns to catch North Korean defectors with road blocks, checks for identity cards and suchlike.They forbade North Korean women to marry Chinese men, and if they had any children, those children were not allowed to attend school. Defectors from North Korea to South Korea.South Korea is incredibly welcoming to North Korean defectors, and defection to South Korea is gathering momentum.The following shows a) the year and b) the numbers of North Koreans requesting citizenship in South Korea every year.Date..............Citizenship requests1998....................712000...................3122002.................1,1392008.................1,000-3,000Every refugee is sent to a centre for three month's training and acclimatization, to help them to live in South Korea and the free world. Each one is given $20,000 as a start-up fund when they leave the centre, and the South Korean government has had several think tanks looking at different models of integration, particularly with the view to reunification between the countries. Kim Dae-jung became South Korea's president in 1998. He launched a "sunshine policy" to ease tensions between NK and SK. Later he won the Nobel peace prize. "for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular". (hide spoiler)]---------------------------------------------Photography:And here is a link to an album of photographs taken in North Korea, by the brilliant photographer Eric Lafforgue. This album is a marvellous document of life in that country, and the photographs are superb. I highly recommend it.https://www.flickr.com/photos/mytrips...--------------------------------------BBC DocumentaryAnd here is a link to an excellent TV programme done by Panorama (BBC), on an extraordinary private Western university* that has opened in North Korea. It gives a lot of insight into the culture generally, as well as the work of the university.http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/...*The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).----------------------------------------------Picture at top was taken from the book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Cheryl
    2019-03-07 19:00

    "It is not easy for somebody who has escaped a totalitarian country to live in the free world. Defectors have to rediscover who they are in a world that offers endless possibilities. Choosing where to live, what to do, even which clothes to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustomed to choices. It can be utterly paralyzing for people who've had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives."These are the stories of North Korean defectors: people who risked everything to escape a totalitarian country. It was impossible to read this nonfiction book and not be reminded of George Orwell's 1984.; difficult to read Demick's recount of how she gathered the information without seeing traces of Laura Ling's Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home. Demick was a journalist and Bureau Chief for North and South Korea when she gathered information for this book. It took her fifteen years of research, interviews, and writing to get us these heartrending stories. Forgive me as I dare to suggest that you could read all you want about North Korea, but you will never see it the same after reading the accounts of these people who actually lived there. Nothing you've seen in the media can prepare you for the lives behind the scenes of this regime. "Our Father, we have nothing to envy in this world." (The name of this book is based on this chant from North Koreans to their father-dictator). They were not allowed to watch televisions or listen to radios. Daily activity and speech were monitored. They were told that the rest of the world were evil capitalists whose ideas of individualism had them living in seclusion, hiding from each other in fear of being killed. Speaking up against "the great leader" was a serious crime. Again: think, Winston in 1984. Oh Orwell, you psychic genius. What Demick does well here is structure individual stories around facts on North Korea: history about the separation of Korea after the war, and statistics that will stun you (i.e.: on poverty). The research is thorough and the interviews came together like a story that unfolds well. I was particularly stricken by the information about daily diet and the starvation that forced some Koreans to eat grass just to stay alive. My surprise wasn't because I was naive to think that poverty isn't a worldwide problem, but because what I was reading about (or rather hearing through the beautiful audio production by Karen White on my iPad) was what one would expect in a war torn country. Yet there I was, reading about the intentional crippling of an economy.There are no words to describe the brave defectors who risked everything to escape to South Korea: some left families and their families were taken to labor camps; those who started over and found a way to mingle with a free society; those who struggled to find confidence and independence. There is a couple in love, a matriarch who was once loyal to the regime, a doctor who had to restart medical school when she escaped, a young businesswoman. Read this and you'll worry about the future of world politics.

  • Zöe Yu
    2019-03-07 00:52

    This is an incredible book! I rarely cry for books though am a greedy reader. "Nothing to Envy" makes me cry many times. I can't stop reading it.I never try to understand North Korea, for Chinese people like me, North Korea is ignored. We are proud of our market and economy, meanwhile making jokes of North Korea partner. But I don't know North Korea people live in such a condition in 1990s, when I was a troubled teenager. Some of the stories sound familiar, yes, it happened in China and CCCP before, and I can't believe it is still happening. I can't believe there is still a life without electricity, or a smart phone. I am addicted to East Germany and West Germany stories. I thought that's not the worst version, but close enough. Because you've got people escaping even with blimps. Barbara told me, no. German people are lucky, they put the Berlin Mauer down. How could a country like this still exist??? HOW? When I was reading, a Caterpillar dragging half of Lenin's bronze sculpture across the sky -- a scene from Goodbye Lenin keeps hitting my mind, will North Korean people be able to see that? Previously I don't feel too much from that scene, only get a little bit angry because a writer from HongKong depicts that scene by mistake, and calls the movie "Goodbye Lemon". Well, a person from Hong Kong, who is always shouting to the authorities, is understandable. He may have little sense of CCCP or Lemon, he was allowed to make that mistake, but still funny. Like a kid in US ask "do African kids use Facebook?"From the book, I am reassured again that people could be touched by the most subtle happenings in their lives, even those who are brainwashed. People change because of small things. People change their minds completely not because of huge event, but trivia. A meal of a dog, a wandering swallow singing a song, an electronic pot for cooking rice, etc. Small things are triggers for them to make their decisions to leave North Korea, even the true believers of the regime. Small things touch the deepest feeling in their hearts, and give the strongest echoes. My attitude towards DPRK and South Korea changed. CCCP, China, Germany, Korea, four countries, 3 nations, full of stories, tragic enough to tear you apart, but strong enough to pull you together.

  • LeAnne
    2019-02-27 18:08

    How can any book about North Korea and its people not be fascinating? This one is a composite tale of six people who defected from this very bizarre country and were interviewed at length, off and on for a period of years. Because I read a surreal work of fiction by Adam Johnson called The Orphan Master's Son, a novel that was very well researched (and which I highly recommend), there were probably not as many surprises for me as for another reader who knows even less about North Korea. Because we get very personal histories, it was interesting to find out that a class system is alive and well there, making it impossible for young people in love to marry one another if one has some sort of shame in the family. The shame might be to have relatives living in China or South Korea - this offense taints the family bloodline for three generations, regardless of the intellect or talent or physical status of the person. If one of your distant relatives had somehow defected to China or to South Korea, his immediate family would be thrown into prison, probably for life. Those related to the defector - but not by bloodlines - could keep their freedom, but the next three generations would be hard pressed to find education or to marry above their station. The class system also rewards those with good lineage and good service with a bit of extra food or acceptance into university. What was darkly amusing was the experience of one person who had achieved a high level of scholarly pursuit, but when he finally made it to South Korea, he realized that he indeed was very progressive in his knowledge - knowledge tied to the 1950s and 60s! Everything he knew and instructed university students in had been obsolete for decades.While I had heard of the food shortages in the 1990s, I had no idea how desperate a famine it really was. Like the people in the Siege of Leningrad who were starved for hundreds of days, the North Korean families died of starvation or were stunted in their growth and development for a decade. By the late 90s, North Korean men only had to reach 5 feet in height to be admitted to the armed services - with the exception of the ulra elite, everyone was underweight. This book was published in 2010, and at that time it appeared that food was still scarce. People could still be seen on their knees by the side of the road, pulling weeds aside to look for edible plants.There are a few stories about the work prisons which were not all that surprising except for the fact that a tiny offense, a joke made about the great leaders height for example, could send you to prison for over a year. The six individuals that the author interviewed over the years were all from a city close to the Chinese border called Chongjin, and while a couple of them did spend time in prison, most of the story is based on life in the city during the starving times of the 90s. Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il were in power during the timeframe that is covered by this book, so you will not find anything about Kim Jong-Un here. Who knows what fresh atrocities are happening now? Like his father and grandfather before him, what funds he has goes into weapons instead of providing food for his people. All three generations of dictators color the Americans as evil, so all of the defectors were stunned to eventually discover that what food did appear came from humanitarian efforts that the US and UN provided.This was an interesting and eye-opening book, however I would highly recommend that you not listen to it by audio as I did. The narrator is extremely staccato in her pronunciation and quite slow to boot. One thing that occurred to me is that perhaps she is tightly spoken by intention. There may be Korean readers listening to the book in English, and if the words are slowly and clearly spoken, then it would be easier for them to absorb. The first half of the book reads as a bit dry, and there are a handful of phrases that repeated throughout chunks of the book (she had arrived...he had arrived) in such close proximity that they were noticeable. The style of storytelling is not particularly compelling in the first half, but the lives of these ordinary people certainly are.It is absolutely horrifying to know that there are millions of people living in such strange and horrific circumstances, and the irony is that they are so encapsulated in their country, that they believe the entire world is in the same boat with them. Say a little prayer for the people of North Korea. They are bright and hard-working and dedicated to their families, but are locked in a cult like state with a third generation madman ruling them. God bless them.

  • Lisa Vegan
    2019-02-18 19:50

    I started reading this book as a buddy read with a Goodreads friend, but she decided it wasn’t the right book at the right time for her, so I continued on alone, grateful that it had been her suggestion and I got it off my to read shelf, and I’m so glad that I did.There is a helpful map and I love maps in books, though I wish it had been even more heavily labeled as many places were mentioned didn’t appear on it. I also appreciated the photos. Each chapter started with one photo, though I wish that that many more photos were included. Why there are so relatively few is certainly understandable though.I found it helpful to read the notes for chapters that are at the end of the book as soon as I read their corresponding chapters. They’re not long and I think that there is great benefit to reading them when the chapters’ contents are still fresh in the reader’s mind. While I wanted more, more people and more updates on each person and more information, it’s just because what’s there is so good.When I read books such as this I go back and look at what I was doing, eating, etc. during the periods and on the days mentioned. (I have schedule books going back to 1977.) I’m always stunned to read what some people have gone through during my lifetime, and unfortunately that includes now.Somehow this feels like a perfectly crafted book. It’s non-fiction that reads like fiction, so much so that a few times I caught myself thinking something such as oh that’s too bad but it is realistic, and then realizing of course it’s realistic because these are real people’s real stories. The reader really gets to really know the six main people and gets a clear sense of how it was for others mentioned and also for the general populace. While a tremendously upsetting account, it helped me to know that the six people focused on had all gotten out of North Korea (though it’s impossible to not think about the people still there or who were stuck there and are likely dead and those who did die) but these are brave and strong people, and there was some humor, and the storytelling was so riveting, that despite the horrors, it wasn’t exactly a depressing book, though there were plenty of heartbreaking events I will likely always remember. I felt a lot of suspense wondering how people were going to manage to escape. The way their stories were told did not disappoint. This is an excellent book. I had none of my usual contemplating whether it should be 4 or 5 stars or whether I needed to include a half star. 5 stars it was, and I knew that most of the way through. It would have had to go way downhill for me to give it anything other than 5 stars and that never happened. Top notch! Very hard to put down! It’s a true page-turner and always engaging. Very well researched. It didn’t improve my mood about people or governments though, including the North Korean and also my own United States government. I already knew a few things about how things were in North Korea, but I learned so much more about the country, and while much of what was described was highly disturbing it was also fascinating. It helped that for the most part the people were likeable and at least relatable, even with the cultural differences and often experiences vastly different from anything I’ve experienced. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. The author’s other book also looks intriguing. She certainly chooses interesting and challenging topics. I’m eager to see what she will write next.

  • Caroline
    2019-03-09 00:19

    ***NO SPOILERS***The subtitle is “Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” but “Extraordinary Lives in North Korea” may be more fitting. Author Barbara Demick chose to approach the topic of North Korea smartly--by interviewing at length a handful of North Korean defectors from various walks of life. Actually, “interviewing” feels inaccurate. She presented the kinds of intimate details exchanged between confidants. North Korea is unlike any country on Earth, and the subjects of this book are very unlike the average person. It’s pretty much common knowledge that North Korea is its own oppressed and highly mysterious world. Demick stated that the fact that it’s managed to remain as it has for this long is surprising. Communism fell in Germany and then in the Soviet Union; it would seem North Korea isn’t far behind, yet it continues to operate miserably and hopelessly as it has for decades. She believes its fall is imminent.Nothing to Envy isn’t exactly about North Korea, though. It isn’t the best book to read to learn about North Korea’s history or anything detailed about Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Demick explained little about them, mostly focusing on how beloved Kim Il-sung was (a fascinating example of how thorough North Korea’s brainwashing is) and how important such love and admiration was to him. She says much less about Kim Jong-il beyond explaining that he was less capable than his father and fairly disliked by the North Koreans. She described North Korea’s landscape more than she delved into the country’s history. She wrote little about the prison camps not because of any oversight; it was because, as she explained, those prisons are for life. No one is freed (or manages to escape) to provide a description. This book is about the people. Demick kept the humanity in their stories, and this is the book’s strength. She wanted her readers, no matter who they are, to relate to her subjects as easily as they do their own friends. These people differ greatly. They range from an overworked doctor to an incorrigible teen thief. The result is a satisfying, full portrait of what life is as a citizen of this country. To read Nothing to Envy is to walk in the shoes of a North Korean, especially a North Korean during the country’s famine, which lasted from 1994 to 1998 and killed as many as 3.5 million people. It’s to eat a concoction of salted water bulked up with tree bark, sawdust, and weeds from the backyard; to hurry past emaciated corpses at the train station daily; to witness a man be publicly executed for stealing copper wire off a dead phone line. Demick was shrewd in her choices, because these stories are equally interesting. Her writing is accomplished but not complicated; she transitioned logically from one story to another; and the book as a whole never gets dry. What’s especially outstanding is that she deftly wove facts about this unusual country into the personal stories when the facts are relevant to those stories, so all learning about North Korea feels natural. This technique really works. Focusing primarily on the inhabitants is almost always more engrossing in a nonfiction about a country. Nothing to Envy can probably be considered the benchmark for understanding what it’s like not just to live but to survive in North Korea. Those the least bit curious should open this, look at that shocking map heading chapter one, and try to resist the pull.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-02-25 19:15

    North Korea reminds me of the old kingdom of the Zulus, in that it seemed only possible for both states that only one man could ever be fat, the nation's strategic fat reserves carried for security on one person, rather as the Merovingians made long hair their distinctive marker of royal status so these modern states had the male pot belly.Journalist Barbara Demick has sown together a narrative account of six North Korean lives from the city of Chongjin in the north west from the 1990s through to their defection and settlement in South Korea. Her intention was that the lives told would overlap and verify each other, at least in general outlines.The broad picture is not surprising(view spoiler)[ well what do you imagine happens in a rigidly policed state unable to feed itself goes through a prolonged economic crisis? (hide spoiler)], but the resultant account easy to read. I reached for it off the shelf for the rather irreverent reason that I am attempting the increase the number of books I read that were written by women and Mme Demick gave every appearance of fitting the bill. I knew very little about Korea and most of that from Steve's reviews, which admittedly don't appear on the surface to have much in common with the contemporary situation. But as is generally the case, even curiously extreme states can have deep roots, or draw on native traditions. Ultra Confucian might be one way to think of the pre 1989 North Korea, focused on a benevolent if Spartan, Paternalistic leader who provided bi-weekly rations and biannual suits of clothing to a doting and dependant subject people. The deep problems were that this basic level of subsistence was heavily subsidised by other communist states, and the country lacks sufficient land suitable for agriculture to meet the population's calorific needs. The story really begins then with the side into chronic malnutrition and starvation with the authorities gambling such resources as they did have on developing rockets and weapon's grade plutonium presumably in the hope of threatening their neighbours into providing food stuffs.There was a Darwinistic element to the famine, those who felt that stealing was a sin were among the first to die, those who could digest any ground plant matter were better placed to survive.I was curious that Demick mentioned the stripping of copper from railway lines to be sold as scrap by free marketeering individuals - surely that happens in all countries, or maybe it is a habit peculiar to Britain with its fierce entrepreneurial spirit nourished by the Juche necessities of Brexit that such unconsidered trifles are snapped up by the bold and the free, in any case the point is rather that North Korea didn't have the resources to replace such losses nor provide its soldiers with socks. The country was literally asset stripping itself in an effort to survive in the 1990s.There is then for all Demick's sources a side into hunger, poverty and loss, circumstances that lead them to do something relatively exceptional for North Koreans according to Demick, which is to defect over the river border with China and from thence to South Korea, via Mongolia or airports. Malnutrition really saps a person's abilities to do anything including committing thought-crimes, and this a close approximation to a 1984 state, with the leadership rewritting history all the better to control the future, so the small number of defections is not to be sniffed at.I was curious at the relation of women turning to prostitution because it was hard within the scope of this account to imagine many men having access to the spare cash or food to purchase said services, equally one woman was sent out from her factory to collect dog shit shortly after Demick had told us how rare dogs were in North Korea as food source or pets leaving me to imagine one might be more likely to happen across a lump of ambergris on the beach than a piece of canine excrement in North Korea, perhaps this simply underlines the futility of the exercise. Demick says :"The sad truth is that North Korean defectors are often difficult people. Many were pushed into leaving not only because they were starving, but because they couldn't fit in at home. And often the problems trailed after them, even after they crossed the border" (p260), every society has its winners and its losers, Demick's informants were mostly for a variety of arbitrary, if meaningful in a north Korean context, marginalised people. The interesting and sad part of the story was their difficulties in adapting to life in the South, were the authorities have even developed a half-way house campus complex to train defectors for their new lives in the hope of developing expertise and the necessary techniques in the event of national reunion. Their endings are happyish, survival in harsh circumstances is not the most pleasant business, and somebody always has to pay for the lunch.

  • Margaret
    2019-02-20 22:04

    This nonfiction book written by journalist Barbara Demick was published in 2009. It follows the lives of six North Koreans (actually more if you count family members) who manage to defect to South Korea. One could say the stories they tell might be biased against the North as they are the ones who chose to leave. On the other hand, as Demick explains, western reporters (she works for The Los Angeles Times) are not allowed any free access to Northern Koreans while they are in North Korea. There are always government workers escorting reporters, who are never allowed to speak to ordinary people privately. In addition, to her interviews of the defectors in South Korea, Demick has done extensive reporting on Korean history, government, and culture. The readers are never left without background or context. And other news stories from outside sources over the years seem to confirm that Demick’s account is most likely accurate. The structure of the book reminds me of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns. Both books focus on a few individuals in order to make vivid the stories of a culture and a movement and both books offer solid backgrounds based on years of research. Wilkerson had the great advantage here as she was able to interview thousands of people about their experiences of the Northern Migration and had open access to a wide variety of research resources. Demick, on the other hand, was able to interview only about a hundred defectors from North to South Korea and focused on six, originally from the Chongjin, who had managed to escape to South Korea. (That narrow but deep focus makes it easier for us to envision the place.) And Demick’s research into the facts of life in North Korea was completed despite North Korea’s efforts to prevent reporting about life in North Korea. The stories she tells are totally compelling as is the picture she paints of the conditions in North Korea up through 2007. The lives these people lived, especially during the widespread famine in the 1990’s, are unbearable to read about. One woman, who was a kindergarten teacher, started her first year teaching with 50 students. By the end of the year, 35 had died from starvation; the remaining 15 were listless and tiny. We read stories about neighbor turning in neighbors, totally corrupt government workers and military, a “business sector” that has nearly ground to a halt, and unbelievably severe and widespread poverty. A college meal was soup made of water, salt, and leaves. Students were privileged; others had nothing. We watch as Chongjin, an industrial city in the far north of North Korea, shuts down its factories and stops delivering food to people. People who do work (such as the kindergarten teacher and a doctor) are not paid—for years. With stories like these, I see how a tyrannical government managed to keep such a tight rein on its people for seventy years. (Everyone feared the government and in order to survive would fight to be accepted as Party members.) As I read today in the newspaper that North Korea is saying they will be shortly testing an ICBM capable of delivering an atomic bomb as far as to the United States, I have to try and square that ambition with a population that has been starved and abused for decades. I have to fear that without a healthy population or current technology (other than nuclear bombs), North Korea might feel it really has no future and nothing to lose. Is there no way anyone out here can do anything about any of this?

  • Jessica
    2019-03-13 18:19

    I loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regime is like one of those psychos who's kidnapped a bunch of little kids and keeps them chained in the basement their whole lives so they never know anything of the outside world, only unlike when psychos do this everyone else in the global neighborhood basically knows what's going on in that creepy house.Demick's book relies on extensive interviews with defectors, and tells the story of six North Koreans' lives in the northern industrial city of Chongjin and of their defections to South Korea. The thing that's so great about Nothing to Envy is that it presents its subjects as so easy to relate to and to care about, that it avoids the compassion fatigue, detachment, and defensive lack of empathy that can accompany reading about such horrors. There are portions of this book that are harrowing to read and difficult to imagine, but we can process the idea of witnessing a nation starve to death because we see it through the eyes and the reactions of people we've come to feel we know and understand. The book seems very well-researched and is certainly not a fluff piece by anyone's standards, but for me it was this triumph of the human interest angle that made it so effective. I felt that Demick really got to know her subjects and that she presented them as interesting and complex people, without shying away from an acknowledgment -- familiar from stories of Holocaust survivors -- of how those individuals with the wits, strength, and courage to survive and defect often differ from the general population in sometimes unattractive ways. I was hugely moved by their stories and impressed by their bravery, but also saw them as real human beings with both good and bad traits, which is part of what made the book work so well.In short, this book is interesting and engaging and I'd recommend it to pretty much anyone with even a casual interest in North Korea up to 2009, when it was published.

  • Mariel
    2019-03-11 19:12

    "Some see the truth the proof only when the liar dies." - rapper C Ray Walz"If you kill the head vampire then all half vampires return to normal." - Corey Haim in The Lost Boys. If only that were true, my brother. "Why doesn't the government just leave us alone to live our lives?" (Women at the market were said to grumble this. They were bad ass women because they were illegally making money on the black market AND criticizing the government. In public, no less!)Korea was free from thirty-five years of Japanese occupation after the country pulled out after losing WWII. They hated the Japanese and rejoiced at the chance to build their country again for themselves. Oh wait, what is this territory? went the fat cats in the USA and the USSR over a red and blue board game of Risk. I'll exchange your park place for my dark purple ones (whatever that Monopoly property no one wants is. I can't remember) went the US and so Russia got the less desirable half (if you like to eat rice, anyway). It happened before I was born, and there is nothing I can do about it. Still, reading that I have to go "Oh no!" like when you watch someone go where you know they are going to get killed and the story is never gonna get spontaneous and change no matter how many times you watch it. It's heartbreaking. History will never run out of that helpless assembly line going through the conveyor belt into the firey factory that is hell. I know what happened next. President Truman wanted to play war and he didn't have to get congressional permission first (just like the American presidents these days). History happened and it's over. Oh wait, it's not because people are still fucked.I don't have a favorite war. I don't believe there was ever any such thing as a just war. Good outcome, yes, but fought purely for benevolent reasons? No. Divvying up Korea and Poland like kids over toys (Korea was done the same as Germany, and Korea was not an enemy), running refugees in the hundreds of thousands back into Russia to get shot, Japanese internment camps, atomic bombs, reparations, rape, homogenization, attacks on victims of the joy divisions. It goes on and on. England gave Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. I don't think it was something the involved countries could have stayed out of, but no way was it a war to save Jews any more than the American civil war was about freeing slaves. It was also about people getting rich. These days I'm reading Tony Judt's Post War: A History of Europe Since 1945. I'm no where near the end so I haven't reached his conclusion if people are better off facing up to ALL of the horrors of a war, or if they should go on pretending the only victims were the Jews. I'm more than a little curious about what he is going to decide. I wouldn't want to say if people could or couldn't move past something like that if everyone talked and talked about who did what to whom. I hope no one ever has to live all politics (even though I know that many don't have that option). Official written history that lies or ignores is probably written to benefit someone in particular. Some history is still talked about, remembered by people, right? If you can't avoid that then wouldn't it be better to at least attempt to approach closer to the truth of what really happened? Why tell it at all if you are only going to admit to a part of it? What also happened is that the US and Russia fucked over a lot of people in the aftermath of Hitler's world domination bust up. I would have hated the US for that rather than some ideology about capitalist pigs. I guess there's no point in my wishing that the author would have admitted that North Korea isn't communist. The usa also isn't capitalist. Welfare for the state and welfare for the corporations. Since I'm talking about lies that's a pretty big one right there. North Koreans were/are slaves to support the head of the state. Unlike Europe, North Koreans didn't get to see the light after the iron curtain was lifted in 1989. The light like scurry back under the bed. The light like that's too damned bright I'm trying to get some sleep here. Sometimes it might be a relief to just admit what you had been afraid to face. China started making deals with South Korea and North Korea didn't have any longer protection from comrades in communism. The electricity was going out. The food distribution centers were empty. Factory workers had nothing to produce. That's not, of course, what the people heard. North Korea is the best country in all of the world. We have nothing to envy. China and South Korea are poor, dammit! I have to say that I am stuck on something that came up over and over again with the defectors interviewed by Barbara Demick for her book. When confronted with news from the outside world it was that China and South Korea were not destitute that confounded them. Our country lied to us?! I would have though that the millions dead by famine would have meant something more than the competitive success rate of their neighbors. Or the 200,000 in prisons! They wouldn't tell them that anything was wrong.So the official truth was never true. It was an extreme version of what goes on in the United States. There's a public school in High Springs, Fla that failed kids despite the correct answers on tests so that they could "bring up their grades" to get the bonus money allotted for improvements. Education is a cluster fuck of corruption and people falling through the cracks. Crime is down! That's what the report says so it must be true. Juking the stats is one way to describe it. The great leader looks reassuring on tv and sound bites are distributed to all. Hey, as long as he says his heart is heavy that's good enough for me. Everyone is fed propaganda over how well things are going in the face of a people brought to their knees. People too weak to goose step to their deaths. People going to unpaying jobs (when they could have been looking for precious food) because if they miss too many days they'll go to prison. I wasn't too surprised by a lot it from what I know about other communist countries. You can't trust anyone. One out of four people were informants. Kim Il-sung cherry picked for what parts he liked from the Mao and Stalin playbooks. North Korea seemed somehow more kept down than the others, despite the similarities. It wasn't just because there were more spies per person than even the Stasi had. The people seemed to believe the dear leader bull shit more? I mean, people banged their heads on the ground in grief when Kim Il-sung died. There were reports of mass suicides (some may have been from those who didn't want to live under his son). It could be the Confucian holdovers from their past. The sins of the father were passed down to three more generations. One who was considered to have betrayed the state would take the rest of their blood relatives down with them. I am very much stuck on the life time prison terms. Barbara Demick's book, however, is considered with "ordinary lives" in North Korea. I know, it's in the title. Those who were the natural victims of this regime would have been in the "hostile" class and considered far below ordinary, which would be the core or wavering classes. I don't even know what's normal when you organize people's worth in this way. It seems to be that any so-called socialist state is going to homogenize itself as fast as it can. THESE people aren't good enough for the common support for all. (So much for the well-meaning big hand of the USA, eh? The Marielitos kicked out of Mariel, Cuba remain to this day in federal prison after Cuba put their cripples, retards and other unwanted people on a boat with no where to go. North Korea did trot some of theirs out to their showcase city of Pyongyang for the special Olympics. I fear for what happened to them when all of that was over. They don't want anything less than "perfect" in their prized city.) If they really didn't want you you were likely to end up in prison some time or another. You would starve to death unless you were very, very lucky in the place of many others who were anything but. I couldn't help but wonder about the scores of orphaned boys who scavenged like homeless cats outside train stations. Some would be the last survivor of a family that went totally without to preserve their youngest lives and continue the family name. Where were the girls?! I can guess. Maybe I don't want to (prostitutes or dead, or in jail, or sold into slavery in China).Demick writes that the people she interviewed were those who could not find their place in North Korea. The problems they had fitting in North Korea didn't always go away in South Korea. One old lady, Mrs. Song, was a true bleeding believer in communism and their leader until they didn't have anything to eat. She doesn't have an awakening so much as an everyone else is doing it moment. I can't and don't want to say that this would be true of everyone in North Korea that the rumbles in their tummy was what finally drowned out the gongs of go to work, sleep, now you are allowed to get rations. Not everyone had the option. It wouldn't last forever but for this time in the 1990s some North Koreans benefited from the tragedy of their countrymen. Older women who could get out of mandatory work got to work for themselves. Some women had freedom outside of the home for the first time in their lives. Mrs. Song didn't choose to defect, though. Her eldest daughter Oak-Hee has her kidnapped. Her own story is getting rounded up in China after three years of an arranged marriage. She was luckier than other North Korean women who became indentured servants or slaves. When she returns she goes to prison. Because she had money from her illegal cookie vendor job, Mrs. Song is able to buy her daughter's way out of prison with cigarettes. Oak-hee gets mixed up with some bad broker types and is in debt almost as soon as she makes it to South Korea (the South Korean government gives a cash settlement for defectors and this leaves many easy prey to scam artists). I was a little annoyed when Demick says "She had arrived" about Mrs Song's plastic surgery around her eyes (she didn't choose to defect. She fit in North Korea too. Going along with what everyone else is doing?). I didn't care for the capitalist joy versus communist misery angle too much. It wasn't about stuff! At least, it shouldn't be. I found it moving when North Koreans in South Korea talk about how they wish they could set up a system in North Korea that would care for the elderly. At least they were thinking about the day-to-day lives of people from home. That speaks to me of thinking about them as real people, not someone to follow orders. I'm glad that Mrs Song is able to be happy in South Korea. But they leave behind her other two daughters. They could have gone to prison for what their mother and sister did. Mrs Song didn't remember she had daughters until after her husband and son die of starvation. She lived her life giving everything she had to the state. Fifteen hour days. She misses the good times with her husband, when they still had food. I was moved by her love for her husband and also pissed off that her daughters were forgotten. They knew damned well what happened to people the government were pissed off about. What thoughts did they have for the people who did not have a penis and does that have anything to do with the reverent worship of the Kim family who has done them all so much harm?Another defector, Mi-ran (one of the first, as it happens), finds out about six months after they make it to South Korea that her two sisters are in prison with life sentences because of what she, her mother and brother had done by escaping. How could they just leave them like that? I don't want to impose survivor's guilt onto them, believe me. I have a bad feeling that I am doing that with my worry about how "ordinary lives" means forgetting those who are not as lucky as you in North Korea. It couldn't be a good life except for the very few. Mi-ran was a school teacher and haunted by the fact that she ate well during the worst years while her students were dying. She didn't give food to her favorite student. Maybe there's a defense mechanism that happens to save oneself in something like this. I gotta wonder how much of it had to do with that they were girls. The mother would enjoy a favored position in the family. I liked reading about Mi-Ran. She had had a boyfriend from when she was twelve until she was twenty-six. She leaves the boyfriend behind when she defects. Neither of them knew that the other had wanted to leave North Korea. No one talked about anything. They had had one peck on the cheek in all of the years of their relationship (much of it was done through letters conveyed on unreliable trains). I loved that when they meet again (she is already married and pregnant by then) she wonders why she was obsessed with THIS guy. I liked that Demick didn't play up the "normal" stuff like romance too much. She's a little girl talk-y about it, but in a nice way of allowing Mi-ran to talk about a part of her life she can't talk about with anyone else (I imagine her husband wouldn't have wanted to hear about another dude). That was a nice contrast to "Here we are, two hot blondes sitting side by side" stuff like in Anna Funder's Stasiland. I liked him, though. He saves himself after his escape into China by figuring out the internet. That was pretty savvy. His family was a bit more well to-do than than hers. Of course she left him if he was "too good" for her in social standing. He was kind of a pussy about ever doing anything about it. I liked that he acknowledged this and wasn't a douche about it. Mi-ran could have done a lot worse for a first love in a place where it is forbidden to show affection (no pdas? Hey, that's not too bad...). I'm amazed that they weren't in prison if her father was really suspected to have fought for the other side during the war. Jun-sang had a shot to get into the communist worker's party if he did well in university. His family had been part of the Korean community in Japan before choosing to leave for North Korea (a decision they regretted). I liked that they tried to pretend for a while that they had anything of their own lives apart from what North Korea wanted them to have. A lot of their issues may have had more to do with familial pressure than anything else. North Korea wasn't bad enough with the communist shit they had to throw sexism and class shit on top of it (if a couple got divorced it would be the man's family who got the kid). Sighs. I can't help but think about the people who really didn't fit in. Is there a normal or is there a pretending to be a normal? Closing your eyes and just not noticing what is going on? I guess if you are really hungry you don't always have that luxury. Much of the accounts are about how people managed to eat. Nothing else mattered when they were hungry.I didn't really get a sense of what "normal" North Koreans were like because the bounds, either government or society imposed, were so tight. I wonder how much of it was from having to hide, if you had anything to hide. What I liked best was reading about how they ate when they could get what they wanted. The times when food was a way to connect with each other. Kimchi in earthenware pots buried out in the back yard. It could take weeks to prepare it. They spent their precious free time on food as something to have together. Living meant more than eeking out an existence then. It is said that even the dictatorship understood that they had to have their kimchi. Maybe they should think about kimchi really, really hard and try and overthrow the assholes? I will like reading anything if there are rice paddies. I may as well be up front about that. Something about reading about rice paddies makes my soul long a bit for that simple life. If only they had been allowed to have it. I used to like to read about Korean poetry forms a lot as something to think about when in a bad anxiety period. I was impressed that their writing system was something carried on through generations through the women. Somehow I doubt that they have too much of poetry in North Korea. Who would have the time when they worked all day? But Mi-ran's older sister did use her singing voice (she wasn't allowed to continue with it as a career because of her father's undesirable past) to entertain neighbors. A country without a radio still had singers and people would value someone who had a good voice. I find it reassuring that ordinary lives had a way to be more than ordinary to each other. I wasn't surprised to read that South Koreans fear a reunification with the North. Demick doesn't go into much in her book but I read other articles and I can't help but feel suspicious that the renewal of aid to the neighbor may be to keep them going to avoid having to absorb the destitute country. North Koreans who had a radio station to reach out to their countrymen at home were silenced by the South Korean government. West Germans weren't at all happy about letting in the East (although it was the changes from this that have made it better for them during the current global economic crisis). Remember that Saturday Night Live skit with Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton? He goes into a Macdonalds during a run and ends up explaining how foreign aid is taken by war lords (he eats everyone's Macdonalds). It's something like that. I haven't been a fan of SNL since the '90s. There's probably one about how countries that actually have nuclear weapons don't get invaded. They'll drink your milkshake. It doesn't look good for North Koreans.I have to say that these ordinary lives are the extraordinarily lucky ones to have gotten out alive. That's really what I was thinking. It's not my book and I would never have the means to have access to these stories (and the priceless photographs from Demick's own collection). Demick researched and interviewed for years when she was a correspondent in Seoul for the Los Angeles Times. It's a good book. It was their own lives and I guess that I would have asked them different questions doesn't matter. They got out alive. Others didn't. Maybe you don't think about how you live when you can't think for yourself. It's a look into what it is like to live in a place like North Korea. Life sucks too much to think. That's better than an official history, at least. Demick would ask people where they were when Kim Il-sung died and the memories would come flooding back. Huh. P.s. The information is repeated a lot like in one of those German soap operas that flash backs to a scene from twenty minutes ago. "I just saw that scene! I remember!" Since this is relevant book information it is relegated to the back of my review. The writing style is like a series of newspaper articles. It isn't the annoying rock journalist or chick lit style, at least, but the overlap in information is noticeable and sometimes dull.

  • Shannon
    2019-02-20 22:05

    Some links I've come across that are helping me understand and digest this book better:Vice on Youtube:Inside North KoreaNorth Korea Film MadnessNorth Korean Labor CampsPhotos/Commentary:The Big Picture - A Glimpse of North Korea - August/September, 2011Seeing, Hearing and Speaking No Evil: On the Propaganda Tour in North Korea - July, 2012"North Korea Experts Can See a Lot in a Hemline" - July, 2012The Big Picture - Revealing More of North Korea - September, 2012Photostream on Flickr I discovered via Reddit - September, 2012North Korean parents 'eating their own children' after being driven mad by hunger in famine-hit pariah state - January, 2013And now for something completely different:North Korea Finds Secret Unicorn Lair Said To Prove Pyongyang Was Capital Of Ancient Koreaಠ_ಠ

  • João Carlos
    2019-03-13 21:20

    Parada militar em Pyongyang, Coreia do Norte.A longevidade de um regime – desumano, bárbaro, impiedoso, inclemente, malvado, tirânico, horrível, hediondo, insensível, atroz, lancinante, implacável, sangrento, sanguinário, inflexível, inimaginável, e tudo o mais que possamos escrever ou discorrer – é uma espécie de mistério para mim.Nos anos 90 o desmoronamento iminente do regime norte-coreano era um consenso praticamente incontestado; contra todas as expectativas sobreviveu à queda do Muro de Berlim, ao desmembramento da União Soviética, às reformas económicas, sociais e políticas na China, o seu mais fiel aliado, à morte de Kim Il-sung, a George Bush, que repetidamente insinuou que destituiria o Grande Líder, às sanções económicas pela proliferação de testes com mísseis balísticos capazes de transportar armas nucleares, às condições absolutamente inumanas de uma população esfomeada e sem recurso à saúde, e muito, muito mais…Estátua de Kim Il-sung (1912 - 1994) em Chongjin.A jornalista norte-americana Barbara Demick faz um retrato inédito da República Democrática da Coreia do Norte através da voz e das vidas de seis norte-coreanos que lutaram desesperadamente por viver e sobreviver a um regime repressivo em que a ascensão ao poder do filho de Kim Il-sung – Kim Jong-un - ao contrário de atenuar os métodos punitivos e de vingança ainda os torna mais e mais insuportáveis e infindáveis. Ler ”A Longa Noite de Um Povo” é uma dor e uma angústia permanente; um pai e uma mãe assistirem à morte de um filho ou de uma filha sem lhe poderem dar qualquer tipo de alimento durante dias e dias a fio – é um pensamento que não consigo conceber ou assimilar. Kim Jong-un (n. 1984)

  • Amanda
    2019-03-14 16:54

    Demick's account of the lives of six North Korean refugees who fled the Communist state was an eye opening read. The book was so gripping that I could not put it down. The harrowing experiences of these people was unimaginable. They suffered such love, loss, sacrifice, and betrayal. The book gave a well-researched glimpse into the unusual leadership and governing of the closed off state, and her depiction of the immensity of the famine will forever haunt me.

  • Maria Espadinha
    2019-03-02 20:07

    Viva PortugalDepois de me ter familiarizado com a realidade asfixiante que se vive na Coreia do Norte, só me apetece gritar alto e bom som: Viva Portugal

  • Jeanette
    2019-03-19 18:14

    Whew! This testimony is so deep and dire that even I, who for the last 10 years avoided atrocity reads, cannot give it other than a 5 star. The author has grasped each life's memoir and journey to its minutia essentials. Of their intellects, their ambitions, their emotions, their loyalties, and most of all to their day to day physical conditions for their ultimate survivals. Outstanding, outstanding voice for the 6 characters of primary history- but also for the 23 million who have no voice within the outside world, nor in their world- at all.Of all the non-fiction books I have read since 2010, I think this is the one that should be required reading for present day history students. Particularly those in last years of h.s. and in numerous college courses of related fields. Because this encompasses not only politico belief, psychological conditioning, social psychology in 3 or 4 main tenets, philosophy, but also pure base tenets of morality. Particularly toward what sources moralities of "we think" method arise and prosper- or not. And in no small part too, the position which practical application skills play within human prosperity, health, and thriving toward secure self-identity or that quantity which in some cultures is called "happiness". This book approaches the answers without erudite posing of the perpetually redefined questions. Truly, it does.And some of these pages in this book apply to the assumptions in society being applied at this exact junction in our much more fed society, yet filled with myriad decision and choice- some beyond individual's conceiving. Most of my reviews are just short reactions. This one holds too much for the reaction to be short.North Korea is living within an earlier than medieval times human scale. Not just to their physical size and stunting either. Not least either to the economics. At least the serf system had some holes and fall backs to/for group protection. This one in N.K. much fewer. This one passage below (quote) holds the core of what I have thought myself in the last decade, and especially upon recent USA urban realities."It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic.So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn't realize is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990's alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring. In time, Mi-ran would learn how to walk around a dead body on the street without paying much notice. She could pass a five-year-old on the verge of death without feeling obliged to help. If she wasn't going to share her food with her favorite pupil, she certainly wasn't going to help a perfect stranger."Both premises in that quote are completely true. Core self-concepts need to change for more than short term survival. And one death is deemed more horrific in sorrow than a 1000 non-marketed. (SO TRUE right now in Chicago.) In dire places and terrible times, you need to save yourself first. Anyway you can save yourself, you must. Because if put into the other reverse order, none of you are saved. And not just with food or housing, but in freedom from assault in your daily travel to work or more physical protection for the possibility of a surviving and mobile next day to do it all again. Mobile in the sense of having a body not broken, not pierced, not blown away by a complete stranger. If you do not hold some level of measure toward that safety and aspiration for prosperity toward a difference, or even to maintain a marginal quivering physical health- your concepts and directives of order DO have to change. So very true, the best and most unselfish, do die first. And not just for lack of food.This book reminded me in totality to the work of Primo Levi. And he is mentioned by the author in several parallel experiences. This book is not recommended to those who cry over fictional dysfunction. This place is real. This place still follows in each modern sense the closed door, closed eyes, closed whole piece philosophy. Furthermore the world has allowed this madness of perception to control a possible vast nuclear destruction. While other groups bicker and scream about what words can and cannot be used in far luckier places? Never in my youth or middle years did I think I would live to see such tender sensibilities commit such putrid voice. Another kind of blind madness indeed- the P.C. police? IMHO, absolutely.My strongest connection in this history was to Mrs. Song and Oak-hee. Mother and daughter with such contrasting stories and eventually similar paths. Oak-hee, oh do I know her, discontent and a genetic non-believer from her swaddling clothes! And Mrs. Song the ever innovative and wily skilled true believer and leader of her neighborhood politico cadre for decades. Ever "content" and always diplomatic, so that her very dispossessed and imprisoned or enslaved neighbors still had no bad thing to say about her.And the moment when Mrs. Song heard that rice cooker go off after her kidnapping and withdrawal from the North by her daughter! Yes, it happens exactly like that. Personal experience of my own I have been witness. As I have always been in awe when I have seen that moment in an immigrant's eyes when that same "click" happens. I have seen it in the Lithuanians' tears, the Poles' toasts, the Ukraine survivors giddy laughter. More than just a few times too. And also from those of other continents now. Just this year from an Iraqi family who was my brother's interpreter in his years there. For most of the last 20 years in Chicago and in my former employer years. Again and again. It's like they are reborn. More than that, their entire physical features change.How can people survive the loss of children? Or the loss of the one or two main activities or purposes of their lives? They do. All the time. And they are completely unheralded in the present for those places where it occurs in vast numbers, as far as I can see. Far more tears and empathy are given to the angry, self-deluded, feckless, entitled, spoiled for all forms of sustenance and yet present discontent? I wish all of those could spend just a week with people who cry when they look inside any USA supermarket. And not just the first time they see it either. I remember one who looked at a toddler's bouffant dress layers of fluff of tulle and just wept. For the lost 2 year old who never had a whole shoe.Starvation is not so slow. And a cold, a cut and something minor gets you first most of the time. Men with bigger bodies don't make a year.Jobs that are not whole jobs! And jobs where people are standing fixing immobile machinery for months to years waiting for the next group of pink slips to cut their number in half again. Or to whom employees are not paid for months beyond their working completed! (This is happening to vendors here in IL and has been for the entire last decade.) Once again, the parallels of "all is well" and hunky dory resound by governmental authority "proof". My state of IL is not even paying its health providers in full or at all. BOTH! And the "true believers" still toe the line. Mi-ran's story of her first grade class!! For that alone, read this book.

  • Zanna
    2019-03-10 21:55

    There are now thousands of defectors from North Korea (Chosun) living in South Korea (Hanguk)and Demick has probably met hundreds of them. She could have written this in a journalistic style, with many testimonies substantiated by academic work and other evidence. She could have written it several years earlier, when she first met and spoke to the defectors whose stories she has told. She chose to do something else.The night sky in North Korea is a sight to behold. It might be the most brilliant in Northeast Asia, the only place spared the coal dust, Gobi Desert sand, and carbon monoxide choking the rest of the continent. In the old days, North Korean factories contributed their share to the cloud cover, but no longer. No artificial lighting competes with the intensity of the stars[...] The young couple would walk through the night, scattering gingko leaves in their wake. What did they talk about? Their families, their classmates, books they had read[...] Years later, when I asked the girl about the happiest memories of her life, she told me of those nights[...] people usually analyse North Korea from afar. They don't stop to think that in the middle of this black hole, in this bleak, dark country where millions have died of starvation, there is also love.Demick tells the stories of just six defectors, who she met with repeatedly over several years. Her account is factual, but she calls it an oral history, and as such it is richly personal, full of intense emotional experiences. Through these fraught testimonies, Demick traces the history of North Korea with an impressive lucidity. As author she is unobtrusive, but her skilful weaving together of the material makes for a narrative as gripping as any novel.Insofar as she does commentate, Demick avoids caricature and simplification. When she contrasts North Korea with capitalist countries, she does not paint the latter as paradise, but she doesn't have to. South Koreans may grow taller than their North Korean contemporaries on an unhealthy diet of 'hamburgers and milkshakes', but we can't deny that it beats severe malnutrition. Most of the stories contain pivotal moments when 'the scales fell from their eyes'. For one defector, this came when she crossed the Chinese border and saw a bowl of rice and meat, luxuries beyond her dreams, and realised in astonishment it had been left out for a dog.Demick is the first writer to make famine real for me. It is so hard for us, surrounded by shops full of every imaginable comestible, to imagine a near-total unavailability of food. It twists my heart to know that people die of hunger in this world. I could feed an entire North Korean labour camp with the stash of chocolate under my bed. Of course, it's sadly true that even in food-filled UK, as in other broadly capitalist mixed economies people are hungry and malnourished. In a communist regime we would expect an ethic of sharing to prevail, but the gap between those who have and those who haven't is a gulf generally unbridged in this portrait of North Korea. One defector, a kindergarten teacher, did not share her sufficient food with the children she saw starving in her class. Living barely above the level of survival, most people cannot contemplate giving anything away. She watched in horror as they approached death.I can only measure Demick's success by the effect her book had on me. Its immediacy is heightened by the fact that Koreans are still waiting for reunification. The nightmare has not ended. As soon as I finished reading, I started searching the internet for fresh news. From feeling a general sense of sadness, a studium of sympathy for a suffering population, I have now joined the vigil, eagerly watching and waiting and hoping for a change.