Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick

Category: Nonfiction: World Cultures (North Korea); Investigative Reporting

Synopsis: An in-depth look at contemporary North Korean life as told by its defectors.

Date finished: 27 July 2014

Rating: ****

As unbelievable as this book is, there is little doubt it’s the truth. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know very much about North Korea other than that it seems to be dumping all of its monetary and human resources into creating a nuclear weapon. Which, frankly, seems like enough to know. But in walks Barbara Demick and her (somewhat dated: 2009) book about the lives of North Koreans as told by its defectors (now safely in South Korea, that booming democratic state).

The book is full of details—mostly horrific—of daily life during the energy crisis and famine of the 1990s. Granted, I was somewhat politically and geographically unaware during that decade, but I knew nothing of the hardships faced in North Korea at the time. But then, did anyone in America but the government? We couldn’t send monetary aid to a government who deemed us “those imperialist bastards.” What food aid that was sent was sold on the black market, not handed out the starving citizens. So there wasn’t much use reporting much of anything from the great void that was Kim Il-sung’s North Korea.

This book will make you sad and angry. It will make you wonder what people believe in when they have nothing left. It will make you wonder how a whole people can be brainwashed into thinking their country was working though they were starving. That their government was better than any on earth. How do things like this happen?

Although it’s slightly dated—a third generation Il has taken over since its publication—I doubt that the situation have changed much. It’s worth a read if you’re looking for information about North Korea—and by comparison, South Korea—or communism/totalitarian regimes in general.

Or if you just want a shot of “proud to be an American.”

Would you recommend this to a friend?

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