- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (December 29, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780385523905
- ISBN-13: 978-0385523905
- ASIN: 0385523904
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,699 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea, in which Demick, an L.A. Times staffer and former Seoul bureau chief, draws out details of daily life that would not otherwise be known to Western eyes because of the near-complete media censorship north of the arbitrary border drawn after Japan's surrender ending WWII. As she reveals, ordinary life in North Korea by the 1990s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country's worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world. Thorough interviews recall the tremendous difficulty of daily life under the regime, as these six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country's descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* In spite of the strict restrictions on foreign press, award-winning journalist Demick caught telling glimpses of just how surreal and mournful life is in North Korea. 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. Demick’s bracing chronicle of the horrific consequences of decades of brutality provide the context for the wrenching life stories of North Korean defectors who confided in Demick. Mi-ran explains that even though her “tainted blood” (her father was a South Korean POW) kept her apart from the man she loved, she managed to become a teacher, only to watch her starving students waste away. Dr. Kim Ki-eum could do nothing to help her dying patients. Mrs. Song, a model citizen, was finally forced to face cruel facts. Strongly written and gracefully structured, Demick’s potent 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. --Donna Seaman
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But I’m an American, I have no idea what it’s like to be afraid to criticize politicians. In truth, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t lived under the Kims could know how disparaging it is. It’s ‘1984’ come true in all the worst ways.
The news covers a regime, a country and the mad man who runs it. We hear of nuke testing, missle launches and sancuntions. But we don’t hear about the mothers trying to care for their families, the homeless, starving children or the men who are forced to work for no pay. This book is an eye opener. It focusing on those who really matter and it’s not the Kims, it’s the people who are trapped in his hell.
At the end of the day, I get to put down the book and return to my life. There is nothing that can be done to reach those who are suffering. But I’d like to think that just knowing that they are suffering helps in some small way. I am certainly more grateful for everything in my life.
Through the life stories of these citizens, the author has gone through what they had to do individually and as a group or family in order to survive. One woman in particular, Mrs. Song, who was the perfect North Korean citizen, was very industrious and resourceful in finding ways to make a little bit of money at a time in order to buy food for the next meal for her family. But she, along with many other North Koreans, went against what the government wanted and set up their own little individual businesses which might have been a tarp on the ground with biscuits for sale. After a while, these little "black market" enterprises made enough money for the people setting them up that they were able to buy more food than they had before, and provided a bit of food for the hungry to buy if they had any to spend at all.
American and other foreign aid in the form of grains, powdered milk and other food goods was sent in huge supplies to North Korea, but a lot of it never got to the people, but wound up being sold on the black market. While his people died of starvation, Kim Jong Il spent millions on food for himself from all over the world that was luxurious and exotic. This is the way of despots and dictators in repressed societies where, like in this one, the slogan was "Let's Eat Two Meals a Day" when most were lucky to eat grass boiled in water. But things get to a certain point when the people who are hard line believers in their government begin to realize that they have been lied to their entire lives. Many of these people defect or make the effort to defect from a northernmost city like Chongjin into China and either into Mongolia and on to South Korea or to Southeast Asia to make their way to a destination where they will be free.
Through these lengthy interviews with the people in the book, the author has given us a realistic and thoughtful look at North Korea. If you read nothing else on the subject, I recommend that you read this.