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Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite Paperback – October 13, 2015
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—New York Times Book Review
"Quasi-apocalyptic, but amazingly not speculative…I devoured [it] for its wry and rare observations on that inexplicable land."
—Daniel Handler, Wall Street Journal
"Daring...Kim finds that paranoia is contagious — and can become chillingly routine. 'My little soldiers were also little robots,' she writes before departing, mourning not only that she must leave, but that they must stay."
"Remarkable…A deeply unsettling book, offering a rare and disturbing inside glimpse into the strangeness, brutality and claustrophobia of North Korea… Kim's book is full of small observations that vividly evoke the paranoia and loneliness of a nation living in fear and in thrall to its 'Great Leaders'…Her portraits of her students are tender and heartbreaking, highlighting the enormity of what is at stake."
"A book about censorship, trust, fear, love, and truth, seen through the prism of a school that functions as a comfortable prison…The title comes from a song the students sing in honor of 'The Dear Leader,' including the lyric, 'Without you, there is no us.' Within that title, and this book, is a multitude of truths."
"Sometimes personal histories retain a potent electromagnetic force, [like] Suki Kim's rivetingly topical look inside the most isolationist country on earth."
"Enthralling...Reveals the perplexing innocence and ignorance of one of the world’s most secretive countries."
—O: The Oprah Magazine
"A devastatingly vulnerable account... Kim’s stark and delicate language, intertwined with the suspense of being an undercover journalist in a foreign-yet-familiar land, truly humanized North Korea for me."
"Touching, beautifully written...A rare, intimate portrait of life in the world’s least-known country: grinding poverty for the masses, bland tedium for the ruling class, no fun, no freedom, and fear for all."
—Katha Pollitt, Salon
“[Kim’s] account is fascinating…She is an outsider telling an inside story…Her relationship with her students is the most interesting part of her book…It is tempting to treat the cult of the North Korean Kim dynasty as a grotesque joke, as the makers of The Interview, the recent Hollywood movie about an assassination plot against the current "Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, have done. Suki Kim, quite rightly, does not. The oppression and starvation of millions of people, and a gulag that enslaves up to 200,000 prisoners, many of them worked to death, is really not that funny… Kim got a close look at some of the cult’s manifestations…Her frustration and rage about the waste of young lives and talent crushed by a horribly oppressive system is entirely justified. Being punished for dissent is bad enough. But to be forced to parrot lies and keenly applaud one’s enforcers is a form of constant mental torture.”
—Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books
"A vivid, uncompromising and intensely personal account."
"A starkly revealing look at this hermit nation...Kim opens herself as well as the DPRK to scrutiny...Moving and emotionally evocative."
"Offers great details about [the students’] blinkered worldview…A frank depiction of North Korean life."
"Readers intrigued by Kim Jong Un's recent extended absence from public view can gain insight into the repressive system that shapes North Korea's ruling class from Suki Kim's new memoir."
"We in the West know almost nothing about life in North Korea, including even how its elites live (read Suki Kim's terrific Without You, There Is No Us for one of the few accounts)."
"Suki Kim’s compelling reports for Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, and others have expanded and deepened our understanding both of life in the North, and the West’s profound misapprehensions about it.…[This book is] a fascinating, if deeply fraught document about the education of the North Korean elite, an aspect of the country that until very recently has been almost completely occluded… Kim’s access to the boys constitutes the unique nature of her book [and] illuminates just how sheltered they are."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"[An] extraordinary and troubling portrait of life under severe repression…[Kim’s] account is both perplexing and deeply stirring."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A rare and nuanced look at North Korean culture, and an uncommon addition to the 'inspirational-teacher' genre."
—Booklist, starred review
"A touching portrayal of the student experience in North Korea, which provides readers with a rare glimpse of life in this enigmatic country...Well-written and thoroughly captivating."
—Library Journal, starred review
"Strangely terrifying…A beautifully written book that greatly expands the limited bounds of what we know about North Korea’s ruling class."
—Barbara Demick, author of Nothing to Envy
"Terrifying and sublime, Without You, There Is No Us is a stealth account of heartbreak. Suki Kim, brilliant author of The Interpreter, penetrates the soul of her divided country of origin, bearing witness to generations of maimed lives and arrested identities. This look inside totalitarian North Korea is like no other."
—Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark and Termite and Quiet Dell
"This superb work of investigative journalism is distinguished by its grave beauty and aching tenderness. So skilled is Suki Kim in conveying the eeriness and surreal disconnect of the North Korean landscape that I sometimes felt I was reading a ghost story, one that will haunt me with its silences, with its image of snow falling upon a desolate campus, with the far laughter of her beloved students."
—Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss
"Like an explorer returned from a distant planet or another dimension, Suki Kim has many extraordinary tales to tell, among them how different—and how awful—life is for those who live in North Korea. The devil is in the details here, for her gritty narrative focuses on everyday events to reveal how repression shapes daily life, even for the most privileged. Yet Kim also bears witness to that part of the human soul that no oppressor can ever claim."
—Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana
"In language at once stark and delicate, Suki Kim shatters the polemic of North and South Korea. She couples an investigative reporter's fierce desire to strip away the fiction of the Hermit Kingdom with an immigrant's insatiable hunger for an emotional home, no matter how troubled and no matter how impossible."
—Monique Truong, author of The Book of Salt
"Combining a great novelist's eye for character and a skilled journalist's grasp of politics, Without You, There Is No Us helps us understand North Korea like nothing else I have ever read or watched. The elegance of Kim's prose and her great compassion for ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation kept me turning the pages, riveted by her story. This is a book that rejoins North Korea with humanity."
—Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City
"What a unique book this is! It delivers a beautifully and bravely observed inside account—startling, insightful, moving—of the planet's most notoriously closed and bewildering society. But what I liked best about it was being in the company of Suki Kim's voice—so intimate, vulnerable, obsessive, resilient, confiding and charming."
—Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name and The Interior Circuit
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Suki Kim is the author of the award-winning novel The Interpreter and the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Open Society fellowships. Her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Republic, and the New York Review of Books. Born and raised in Seoul, she lives in New York.
From the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
There is a dreary, grinding sameness to the days. Choices are essentially zero. She had to be careful of every word she spoke, because no one is allowed to know what life is like anywhere else. Teachers had to ensure they didn't sit with the same students in the cafeteria as it would arouse suspicions. Her all male, mid twenties students were as teens are in the USA, champing at the bit to see a Harry Potter film, pining for parents who were not permitted to see them (assuming they could even find them), and feeling totally constricted in what should be the most creative, productive, chance-taking parts of their lives. Instead, it is a life of the military drudgery: long pointless hours guarding empty halls, being reassigned to new "buddies" (totally abandoning the old ones) and boring, minimal food.Read more ›
This book is divided into two parts. In the first part of the book we are taken on a small journey as you learn about the life of the author. I was moved to think what culture shock she must have experienced when she explains having to move to the United States during her early teenage years and having to adapt to a new language and society. I love how Kim uses these experiences in order to relate them to the subject of the book which in turn would be her stay as a teacher at the PUST School in North Korea. The first half of the book speaks concerning her first visit years before to North Korea and the impact it had on her life.
I did sense a feeling that Kim suffered from depression, because many times in the book we are taken back to her personal life and memories and in this I felt that these memories brought tears and sadness to her life. I couldn't help but think how she must have felt as she was writing this book. Could she have stopped writing and reminisce on the words that she was typing? Could she have stopped for a moment to take a deep breath?Read more ›
The first is Kim herself. The first 30% of the book is heavily autobiographical, for no apparent reason. She "loves" her students before even two weeks have passed, which devalues the unnamed "lover" in New York she refers to consistently but rather pointlessly. She has passages of overly flowery language that seem to have been taken from a novel not written; strangely, but thankfully, they disappear by the 2nd half of the book.
Those sections would have been better served by giving us information on things like how many students were at the school, and how many teachers there were, and whether this was meant to replace a normal college education or merely supplement it. She frequently mentions that things are "forbidden", but never conveys how this information is conveyed to the teachers. Various things are "approved", but again there is no description of how this happens. Are written submissions made? Do teachers ask their minders face to face? Does the (foreign) college president play any role in the decisions?
Then there's the question of why these students are studying English in the first place. The Doctrine of Self Reliance that is a critical part of North Korean behavior prides itself on not needing the outside world (with the possible exception of China).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
After reading these two books, back to back, I have decided to review them both together and encourage other interested readers to do the same! Read morePublished 2 days ago by Walter W. Olson, Ph.D, P.E.
All of the interesting information on North Korea for exactly within the pages of this book. I was amazedPublished 4 days ago by allan mueller
Her writing style isn't my favorite but the story is very interesting.Published 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
A must read for everyone old enough to understand that N Korea exists.Published 14 days ago by Sarah Goodrich-Ryan
Great book if you are interested in North Korea. Suki Kim is an excellent writer.Published 16 days ago by Andrea Allison
This was an interesting memoir. The author volunteered to teach two terms at a university that taught English to thew children of the elite of North Korea. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Mark
Ok so this one is a bit challenging to review and I'm struggling between 2 & 3 Stars. The 'peek behind the curtain' of North Korea is fascinating and unique. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amy MK
Really a great quickie insight into a country we know so little about.Published 1 month ago by Tina Walter