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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North…

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Barbara Demick

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1,8501213,743 (4.4)400
Title:Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Authors:Barbara Demick
Info:Spiegel & Grau (2010), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, Audio books, Read but unowned

Work details

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

  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. 20
    Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick (TomWaitsTables)
  3. 20
    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.
  4. 10
    Without you, there is no us 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 00
    Tibetan Diary: From Birth to Death and Beyond in a Himalayan Valley of Nepal by Geoff Childs (meggyweg)
  7. 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.
  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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English (119)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (121)
Showing 1-5 of 119 (next | show all)
Very interesting, insightful and heartbreaking, about five individuals and their families living in North Korea, and how they defected to South Korea, after the famine, and the culture shocks when they finally arrived there. ( )
  gogglemiss | Jun 14, 2016 |
Ever since my best friend told me about the blog Kim Jong-il Looking at Things, I’ve been wanting to learn more about communist dictator Kim Jong-il and his father and predecessor, Kim Il-sung. I knew the basics of life in communist North Korea: no internet access, not much food, no television or radio beyond the government stations, and absolutely no criticizing the Dear Leader. But I didn’t know much about Korean history, or about the particulars of everyday life there.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is written by Barbara Demick, the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt about her from the book’s website:

Barbara Demick has been interviewing North Koreans about their lives since 2001, when she moved to Seoul for the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club award for human rights reporting, the Asia Society’s Osborne Eliott award and the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Award.
Demick tells the stories of six North Koreans — from “normal” life under Kim Il-sung, to life during the famine of 1994-1998, to their eventual defection to South Korea — with great care and respect.

What struck me throughout the book was how incredibly strict and regulated pre-famine life in North Korea was — yet the North Koreans believed they were living fortunate lives of plenty. They were completely indoctrinated by Kim il-Sung’s propaganda; they believed that every good thing they had in life came from their Dear Leader. In fact, he was more than a leader — he was like a god to them.

"Broadcasters would speak of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il breathlessly, in the manner of Pentecostal preachers. North 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." (45)

So when their government failed to provide food, and thousands starved to death, homeless on the streets after selling all of their possessions to buy food that was becoming increasingly unavailable, it was a betrayal of the worst sort.

This book is the story of a young teacher who lost 35 of her kindergarten students to the famine. It’s the story of a university student who watched South Korean television in secret in his apartment at night, terrified of being overheard. It’s the story of the doctor who worked countless hours with little or no pay, broken-hearted at being unable to help her starving patients. It’s the story of a wife and mother with unwavering faith in the regime, whose husband and son starved to death. It’s the story of a young man sent to a labor camp for crossing the Tumen River into China.

After Kim il-Sung’s death, life in North Korea becomes unbearable. (His death conveniently preceded the famine, leaving his reputation relatively “untarnished.”) There is no food, no electricity, no freedom to speak, move about, or make decisions for oneself.

Eventually, each of Demick’s interviewees makes a daring, life-threatening escape, crossing the border to China in the dead of night and afterward making their way to South Korea to begin new lives. Some of them leave sisters and daughters behind who are captured and either executed or sent to labor camps as punishment for having family members who defected.

Nothing to Envy is a captivating and enlightening book. It tells the kinds of stories that we don’t hear in the news. It brings to light the details that the regime tries so hard to hide. I won’t quickly forget the stories of the courageous North Koreans who risked everything to start a life in the free world.

"Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world.
Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party.
We are all brothers and sisters.
Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid,
Our father is here.
We have nothing to envy in this world."
— A well-known North Korean song. (119) ( )
  blackrabbit89 | May 6, 2016 |
Drawing on the histories of North Koreans now living elsewhere, the author characterizes life under the North Korean regime in the last 60 years and talks to the various political situations: China's needs and worries, Mongolia, the South Korea integration process, and so on. Fascinating and important stuff, if sometimes emotionally hard to read.

One of my biggest take-aways here is that under such extreme hardship, the most upstanding and morally driven people die first. The survivors all did things they aren't proud of. Somehow in all my childhood Holocaust memoir reading, this truth didn't sink in until this week. It makes sense, and I see it too in the altruism and trust shown by people with enough money in the United States, and the distrust and expected back-stabbing I've heard from people from poorer communities: when there's not enough to go around, you don't survive unless you're ruthlessly self-interested, and you expect others to be the same.

I'd been wanting to read this book for many years. I'm glad I got to it. ( )
  pammab | May 1, 2016 |
North Korea invites parody.

And that is often the way North Korea is presented to the world. Through these parodies, it is easy to forget the individual human faces which make up North Korea. We hear about the executions of generations, the punishment for one making offhand remarks about people in power. We see the pictures showing the stark differences between North and South Korea at nighttime. We deplore the people in power having lavish meals while millions starve. Occasionally we read about the journeys of the ones who managed to defect. But what about the everyday life of the ordinary people? What do they think about? What are their childhoods like? How do they pass the time? How do romantic relationships evolve in such an environment?

Here, Barbara Demick skilfully combines these familiar facts and answers these questions and more in relation to the compelling everyday lives of people, whose backgrounds range widely from the ideologically faithful to the privately rebellious to the resigned hopeful for ascension in the social ladder. It is due to Demick's writing prowess that she avoids all the dryness of fact-telling and weaves together a readable oral history, with such flair that the sudden photo of Mrs Song shocked me into remembering the reality of the characters.

A minor relief from the constant distress of just reading about North Korea is the knowledge that the interviewees must have eventually successfully defected. The intricate insights into the history and psychology of North Korea and its inhabitants, whether it was individually or collectively studied, through their daily life in the relatively prosperous sixties or the devastating famine in the nineties - The killer targets the most innocent, the people who would never steal food, lie, cheat, break the law or betray a friend- , make this troubling book a highly-recommended read for anybody, high-schoolers and up. ( )
  kitzyl | Jan 29, 2016 |
A very depressing account of the lives of 6 ordinary citizens of this strange country. How can a dynasty of megalomaniacal crackpots hold 23 million people hostage and meddle with every aspect of their lives. The accounts of the famine and how these people managed to cope thru it is very heart rending.
  danoomistmatiste | Jan 24, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 119 (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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'Im Land des Flüsterns' ist eine ergänzte Neuauflage von 'Die Kinogänger von Chongjin'
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:06 -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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