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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North…

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009)

by Barbara Demick

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,5811024,619 (4.42)351
  1. 72
    Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (lorax)
    lorax: Pyongyang is an outsider's view of the one part of the country where foreigners are generally permitted; Nothing to Envy is an inside look at ordinary life elsewhere in the country where the situation is even grimmer.
  2. 30
    Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden (Stbalbach, rebeccanyc)
    Stbalbach: Amazing story of escape from a North Korea prison camp.
    rebeccanyc: Demick's book explores the lives of several people who lived in and escaped from North Korea, while Harden's focuses on one individual who was born in and escaped from a North Korean slave labor camp. The two books complement each other.
  3. 20
    Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick (one-horse.library)
  4. 10
    Kim Il-song's North Korea by Helen-Louise Hunter (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Credited in Nothing To Envy as one of the sources of info about DPRK.
  5. 00
    This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang (justine28)
    justine28: This is Paradise is a first-hand account of North Korean regime and especially the 1990s famine as experienced by a defector. Very similar to the stories gathered by Demick - a journalist. The two books complement each other.
  6. 00
    Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal by Geoff Childs (meggyweg)
  7. 00
    Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim (Nickelini)
    Nickelini: Both books are compelling, fascinating reads. Nothing to Envy covers a broad scope, and Without You, There is No Us has a tight focus. They explore the North Korean regime from different angles.
  8. 03
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (weener)
    weener: One is fiction, one is non-fiction. One is in Latin America, one is in Asia. Both are heartbreaking, deeply affecting tales of life under totalitarianism.

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» See also 351 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Barbara Demick has constructed an insight into life in North Korea through interviews with a number of defectors to South Korea. This book reads like a novel and portrays the hardships and isolation that North Koreans endured in the 1990's including near starvation, work without pay, and total government control. Fascinating yet alarming. ( )
  CarterPJ | Dec 9, 2014 |
What an eye-opener!

How have I been so naiive about what has been happening in North Korea all this time? Well, I'm so glad I downloaded this audiobook, because now I am very much more aware of events in this culturally isolated country. The opening statement, that Google Earth shows the country as nothing but darkness because electricity is not the norm in people's houses, was just a taster for the repression and struggles that the population has endured.

Although I originally struggled with the Korean names, after a while I began to recognise people reappearing in this non-fiction account. Every one of them endured a battle for survival that progressively got worse and worse. Their imprinted visions of North Korea gradually started to crumble, as famine and detentions in the gulag became more and more prevalent.

Although the author did manage to visit this closed country on a couple of occasions, her characters were people who had eventually managed to escape, and allowed her to interview them in the relative safety of their new homes. Their survival, however, had frequently been at the expense of other family members remaining behind, who would have been made to pay the price.

The book covers the period from the rise and subsequent death of Kim Il-sung, in 1994, through the ensuing rule of his son Kim Jong-i, who has since died (2011), but was still in power at the end of the book. This was a period of time during which 20% of the population died of starvation, but the country refused to allow outside help. The attempts that these people make to try and live some sort of normal life throughout this time, is heartbreaking.

A well told account of unbelievable deprivation and determination to survive. ( )
  DubaiReader | Nov 14, 2014 |
'N Korea remains the last bastion of undiluted communism in the world', September 2, 2014

This review is from: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Paperback)
Realising that she could never get an insider's view of N Korea from her trips there (the country 'takes the precaution of assigning two 'minders' to foreign visitors, one to watch the other so they can't be bribed'), the author instead focusses on telling the lives of several defectors whom she met in S Korea. The tale they tell of the bizarre regime is horrific: a Big Brother style security police; fearsome jails; a system of wreaking revenge on 'wrongdoers' by penalising their family....and an economic system which, although overtaking that of the South in the 50s, has slowly ground to a halt, resulting in major famine.

Current events told from a framework of personal narratives makes for an extremely readable work. Central to the whole story is the remarkable cult of the 'Dear Leader':
'Kim Il-Sung closed the churches...and appropriated Christian imagery and dogma for the purpose of self-promotion...N Korean newspapers carried tales of supernatural phenomena. Stormy seas were said to be calmed when sailors clinging to a sinking ship sang songs in praise of Kim Il-Sung....If (he) was God, then Kim Jong-Il was the son of God. Like Jesus Christ, (his) birth is said to have been heralded by a radiant star in the sky and the appearance of a beautiful double rainbow.'

Informative and utterly fascinating read. ( )
  starbox | Sep 2, 2014 |
This is a fantastic book that I highly recommend. Demick is a journalist, I think currently for the LA Times, who wrote a series of articles based on interviews with North Korean defectors currently residing in South Korea. From these interviews she created this book, looking at the lives of 6 North Koreans. This is such a fascinating and horrifying book. We've all heard a lot about the famine, sanctions, and antics of Kim Jong-il, but this puts a human face on all of the rhetoric. She manages to stay away from too much discussion of politics and focuses on the lives of average North Koreans. The lives of these six people and the things they've seen are horrifying. I've read books about other dictatorships, famines, wars, etc. but this is happening NOW. Pretty much the only way to have any inkling of what the average North Korean is going through right now is from these people who've gotten away, since no one else, not even aid workers, are allowed into the country with any amount of freedom. Demick does a great job of humanizing the issues but she doesn't try to say that everything is easy for these defectors after they make it to South Korea. There they face challenges of trying to get used to modern life and deal with the guilt of being somewhere safe with food to eat when they all left children (yes, their own children, some still young), parents, or siblings behind. ( )
4 vote japaul22 | Aug 10, 2014 |
Non-fiction account of life in North Korea: living through the 90s famine, the ongoing hardships, and the varying success of a handful of interviewees who escaped and set up life in South Korea. Not for the tender-hearted. ( )
  KRoan | Jul 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Barbara Demick's book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea opens with a nighttime satellite image of northeast Asia that shows the bright lights of South Korea and China. In the middle of the photograph is a dark spot — a nation of 23 million people that has little electricity.
added by bongiovi | editNPR (Jan 6, 2010)
Nothing to Envy – the title comes from a piece of propaganda aimed at hoodwinking gullible North Korean citizens – is a fascinating work which highlights in the lives of the individuals concerned the triumph of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Elegantly structured and written, Nothing To Envy is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.
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If you look at satellite photographs of the far east by night, you'll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light.
[...] she couldn't deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385523912, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years, a chaotic period that saw the rise to power of Kim Jong Il and the devastation of a famine that killed one-fifth of the population, illustrating what it means to live under the most repressive totalitarian regime today.… (more)

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