Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
By Barbara Demick
Spiegel & Grau, 2009. 314 pgs. Nonfiction
Barbara Demick describes the lives of six different people who have defected from North Korea to South Korea, and from their life histories describes what it is like to live in North Korea today. Her chilling impressions of a dreary, muffled, and depleted land are juxtaposed with a uniquely to-the-point history of how North Korea became an industrialized Communist nation supported by the Soviet Union and China and ruled by Kim il Sung, then collapsed catastrophically into poverty, darkness, and starvation under the dictator’s son, Kim Jong il. The blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state within a saga of unfathomable suffering punctuated by faint glimmers of hope.
Although this book sounds rather gloomy, it ended up being a fascinating read that I couldn’t put down. First of all, I didn’t know anything about North Korea before reading it and I loved learning so much about one of the most secretive countries on earth. Second, and most importantly, the people interviewed in this book are amazing. They live in terrible circumstances and yet manage to maintain love, hope, and even a certain sense of optimism. This book taught me much more about the capacity of the human spirit than I expected from just reading the summary.