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Nothing to Envy

Non-fiction about ordinary lives in N. Korea

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Fascinating Look into Lives of Isolated People

  • Jul 21, 2010

I was riveted reading this look at the lives of 6 defectors from North Korea. I had little knowledge of the history and current political situation in North Korea, so I found this narrative very informative. I enjoy learning about history more through books like this than textbooks. 

It's amazing to see how isolated people can be in this day and age when surrounded by countries with the Internet, cell phones, and free press. These are all unknown in North Korea, where they are lucky to get an hour of electricity. Their leaders have exerted an amazing level of control over every message that the citizens hear, including that they have "nothing to envy in the world." Kim Jung-Il is seen as godlike. Americans and South Koreans are the devil. Capitalism is evil. To make a joke about King Jung-Il, to listen to South Korean radio, or to fail to hang the mandatory pictures of Kim Jung-Il and his father are all risks that could lead to a neighbor reporting you to the police.

Visitors to North Korea are only allowed limited views of the country, carefully staged clean cities and only the best looking families.

I'd recommend this to any adults interested in understanding North Korea better. Some of the details about starvation and killings are graphic, but I had trouble putting the book down.

Many of the situations are disturbing. When faced with a famine, teachers and pediatricians harden themselves to the starving children around them as a survival tactic. As the famine spreads, people start to pull away from the closely followed laws and open black market shops to make enough money for a small amount of rice. The idea of defecting is not as unimaginable and people sneak to China to find food, earn money, and escape the totalitarian regime. One woman who had just crossed the border was amazed to see a bowl of rice set out on the ground and realized a dog in China eats better than a doctor in North Korea.

This is a well researched book, an amazing since journalists are rarely allowed access to North Korea. The people in this book are incredibly strong, overcoming starvation, fear, and the threat of life in prison to escape the country.

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July 22, 2010
I would probably really enjoy this book now that I've been watching a lot of Korean films. Thanks for the great review!
More Nothing to Envy reviews
Quick Tip by . July 21, 2010
Fascinating look into the isolated lives of North Koreans
About the reviewer
Amanda Becker ()
Ranked #1093
Member Since: Jul 21, 2010
Last Login: Aug 4, 2010 03:36 PM UTC
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