“Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick

Posted 6 April, 2012 by Allison Hiltz in Book Reviews, Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

“Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea” by Barbara DemickNothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
on December 29, 2009

From Goodreads: A National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle finalist, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is a remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens.

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, 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 totalitarian 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. Demick 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.
What an amazing book! Written by a journalist living in South Korea, it follows the lives of six North Korean defectors from childhood to present day. It weaves a story of loyalty, honor and personal conviction while tossing in some rebellion and acceptance. It’s not a happy story and at parts can be hard to stomach (reality often is), but it is definitely worth reading.

What I liked most about this book is that it tells the story from the point of view of the North Koreans, leaving out judgment, American politics and every preconceived notion one might have going into  the book. It is not a book designed to paint North Korea as anything but what the people involved believe it to be. The reality can be, at times, unnerving, but it is refreshing to read about North Korea without the brackets of international judgment around it.
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Allison Hiltz
Allison is a voracious reader, Law & Order aficionado, serial napper, shark conservationist, and crazy coffee drinker. She is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Public Policy and lives in Denver, CO with her husband and two rescue dogs. She can be contacted at allison(at)thebookwheelblog(dot)com.
Allison Hiltz

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