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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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1,9021293,601 (4.4)413
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

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

Recently added bylucyh, EKearney, bkaviar, William-Tucker, sasmpls, Nikoz, private library, KimSalyers, mattwillms, TMBusch
  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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In the 1990s, Barbara Demick conducted extensive interviews with North Korean defectors about their lives, and in Nothing to Envy she interweaves their personal tales with some broader historical context to present a portrait of everyday life in North Korea under the reigns of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. It is, of necessity, an incomplete portrait, as even journalists who have been there (as Demick has been) get only a carefully managed, deliberately distorted view of the place, and fact-checking anyone's stories is largely impossible. But it's enough to give a sense of what life is like there. And that life is just... hard to fathom, at least from where I sit, here in the United States.

It's one thing, I think, to know intellectually that North Korea is basically an Orwellian nightmare brought to life, but another to see how that actually plays out in the lives of ordinary people. More than that, I was struck by the extent to which North Korea in the 90s comes across as not merely Orwellian, but as almost post-apocalyptic. It's a place where the lights have quite literally gone out, a place that once had infrastructure that's now broken down, once had industry whose remains have been cannibalized for scrap, once was able to feed its populace but now leaves its people to desperately scour the countryside for whatever meager pickings they can find.

It's often horrific to read about, and yet, in its own disturbing way, absolutely compelling. As are the very human stories of the people affected. This is definitely a book that deserves all the buzz it's gotten. (Even if I am very, very late in adding to that buzz.) ( )
1 vote bragan | Aug 29, 2016 |
52. Nothing to Envy : Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
published: December 2009
format: 315 page hardcover
acquired: borrowed from my library
read: Aug 17-20
rating: 5 stars

It's very strange how little we know of what is happening inside North Korea. Demick provided a rare view in through the personal stories of six defectors. These are amazing stories of a very strange place, a real-world [1984] where the ruler is presented as a god, and his son and successor as the son of god. Where everyone watches everyone, and a well liked person can get in trouble for stating out loud the slightest criticism of the government. It's a country so closed off that the best and brightest and most supported students have never used the internet. North Korea is off the grid.

But, this Orwellian world collapsed. After the Soviet Union dissolved, it stopped financially supporting North Korea, and the country, far from self-sufficient, began an economic collapse and then an all-out starvation throughout the 1990's. You might have heard something about this, along the lines of President Clinton frustrated North Korea refused to shut down it's nuclear weapons program in return for foreign aid. But, with such a closed off country, there was no real coverage, there were no visuals, no striking dramatic pictures. I have to admit I missed the whole famine. All of North Korea was starving, perhaps 2 million of a the 23 million population died, and some 40% of the children of that period have life-long symptoms related to starvation. I had no idea.

And yet the power structure did not waver. North Korea remains, along with Cuba, the last of the communist holdouts.

For such a well reviewed book, there is not much I can add to the picture. I am surprised both at how little information Demick was able to present, and how much she made out of it. An oddity of North Korea's famine is that there were no refugees. It's not that hard to get to China if one is desperate enough, but the numbers of Koreans trickling through was pretty small, and, for various reasons, the numbers welcomed to South Korea, whose official policy is to welcome North Koreans as fellow countrymen, is minuscule. A couple hundred a year through the 1990's, and maybe a couple thousand a year through the early 2000's. These are all Demick was able to interview, and, for these stories, she only interviewed 100 people. Of course, she only presents six life stories. But what lives. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Aug 22, 2016 |
I started reading this book as a buddy read with a Goodreads friend, but she decided it wasn’t the right book at the right time for her, so I continued on alone, grateful that it had been her suggestion and I got it off my to read shelf, and I’m so glad that I did.

There is a helpful map and I love maps in books, though I wish it had been even more heavily labeled as many places were mentioned didn’t appear on it. I also appreciated the photos. Each chapter started with one photo, though I wish that that many more photos were included. Why there are so relatively few is certainly understandable though.

I found it helpful to read the notes for chapters that are at the end of the book as soon as I read their corresponding chapters. They’re not long and I think that there is great benefit to reading them when the chapters’ contents are still fresh in the reader’s mind.

While I wanted more, more people and more updates on each person and more information, it’s just because what’s there is so good.

When I read books such as this I go back and look at what I was doing, eating, etc. during the periods and on the days mentioned. (I have schedule books going back to 1977.) I’m always stunned to read what some people have gone through during my lifetime, and unfortunately that includes now.

Somehow this feels like a perfectly crafted book. It’s non-fiction that reads like fiction, so much so that a few times I caught myself thinking something such as oh that’s too bad but it is realistic, and then realizing of course it’s realistic because these are real people’s real stories. The reader really gets to really know the six main people and gets a clear sense of how it was for others mentioned and also for the general populace.

While a tremendously upsetting account, it helped me to know that the six people focused on had all gotten out of North Korea (though it’s impossible to not think about the people still there or who were stuck there and are likely dead and those who did die) but these are brave and strong people, and there was some humor, and the storytelling was so riveting, that despite the horrors, it wasn’t exactly a exactly a depressing book, though there were plenty of heartbreaking events I will likely always remember. I felt a lot of suspense wondering how people were going to manage to escape. The way their stories were told did not disappoint.

This is an excellent book. I had none of my usual contemplating whether it should be 4 or 5 stars or whether I needed to include a half star. 5 stars it was, and I knew that most of the way through. It would have had to go way downhill for me to give it anything other than 5 stars and that never happened. Top notch! Very hard to put down! It’s a true page-turner and always engaging. Very well researched. It didn’t improve my mood about people or governments though, including the North Korean and also my own United States government. I already knew a few things about how things were in North Korea, but I learned so much more about the country, and while much of what was described was highly disturbing it was also fascinating. It helped that for the most part the people were likeable and at least relatable, even with the cultural differences and often experiences vastly different from anything I’ve experienced.

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. The author’s other book also looks intriguing. She certainly chooses interesting and challenging topics. I’m eager to see what she will write next. ( )
  Lisa2013 | Jul 26, 2016 |
I purchased this book as part of my International Relations Masters program. The book is a fascinating insight into the lives and troubles of North Koreans and was one "textbook" I simply could not put down. ( )
  DarrenHarrison | Jul 21, 2016 |
Gave an amazing picture of lives in North Korea, what happened there, and the shock of finding you've been lied to your entire life. It also highlighted something I had never considered–South Korean aversion to NK refugees.

This should be a standard in any modern history or political science class. ( )
  chronoceros | Jul 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 126 (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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