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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Written by Barbara Demick

Narrated by Karen White


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Written by Barbara Demick

Narrated by Karen White

ratings:
4/5 (1,114 ratings)
Length:
12 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 6, 2010
ISBN:
9781400179848
Format:
Audiobook

Editor's Note

In the news…

To better understand the current U.S.–North Korea situation, go inside the secretive country — beyond the control of government censors — with these stories of ordinary people living in political tumult.

Description

Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years-a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung and the unchallenged rise to power of his son, Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Taking us into a landscape never before seen, Demick brings to life what it means to be an average Korean citizen, living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today-an Orwellian world in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, a country that is by choice not connected to the Internet, a society in which outward displays of affection are punished, and a police state that rewards informants and where an offhanded remark can send a citizen to the gulag for life.



Demick's subjects-a middle-aged party loyalist and her rebellious daughter, an idealistic female doctor, an orphan, and two young lovers-all hail from the same provincial city in the farthest-flung northern reaches of the country. One by one, we witness the moments of revelation, when each realizes that they have been betrayed by the Fatherland and that their suffering is not a global condition but is uniquely theirs.



Nothing to Envy is the first book about North Korea to go deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and penetrate the mind-set of the average citizen. It is a groundbreaking and essential addition to the literature of totalitarianism.
Publisher:
Released:
Jan 6, 2010
ISBN:
9781400179848
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Barbara Demick is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club’s award for human rights reporting as well as awards from the Asia Society and the American Academy of Diplomacy. Her coverage of Sarajevo for the Philadelphia Inquirer won the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting. Her previous book is Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.



Reviews

What people think about Nothing to Envy

4.1
1114 ratings / 115 Reviews
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Critic reviews

  • Most stories of life in North Korea come from those who escape the country, but journalist Barbara Demick manages to chronicle the lives of six North Koreans over a tumultuous 15-year period. Find out how North Koreans survived a devastating famine and what they do for fun.

    Scribd Editors

Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    "Nothing to Envy" is North Korean propaganda, it means they do not envy other countries since they are so superior. Of course from the outside looking in the saying is ironic, meaning exactly the opposite we have nothing to envy of them. This book is a braided retelling of about half a dozen North Koreans who defected and told their life story. It's pedestrian and personal, day to day life, loves, work, there's not much high-level overview or history. I was disappointed Demick didn't weave more general information about North Korea (other than the opening and last chapters), but the individual lives tell a different kind of story that is helpful in understanding what it's like to live in a '1984'. I came away understanding that NK after the death of "Dear Leader #1" in the early 90s has essentially failed as a state, but due to cultural reasons the people will never revolt. They can only raise about 60% of the food needed, due to geography constraints, so the population is literally dieing and atrophying, each generation smaller and weaker. An elite few at the top fatten off the majority like in a Medieval kingdom, it's unsurprising since Korea once had the worlds longest lived dynasty at over 1000 years. It's already lasted longer than anyone expected, and sadly most likely will continue for years more to come. The only ones to blame are the Koreans themselves, who put the needs of the state above the needs of the individual, for whom we have nothing to envy.
  • (4/5)
    In this book, Demick immerses us in what it was like to grow up, live in and escape from North Korea. She does this by portraying the lives of six individuals and their families in the 1990's and 2000's. There is a lot of insight into why so many have put up with the regimes of the Kims for so long. The horrors inflicted on the North Korean people by their government are chilling, yet the indoctrination prevailing in their lives from birth caused many to believe that things are worse in the west.Millions died in the famines of the 1990's when most families were reduced to walking out of town each day to gather weeds and grass to make a soup for their daily meal. Factories closed down because there was no electricity or raw materials to run them. People died of starvation and from rampant epidemics. The development of a generation of children was stunted by prenatal starvation and lack of sufficient nutrition in childhood. Doctors were helpless to save starving children. There were also packs of children called "kochebi" or "wandering sparrows" left to fend for themselves when their parents died or abandoned them to go in search of food.Each of the six people profiled in this book ultimately made the difficult decision to defect to South Korea. We learn how they accomplished their escapes. Even when they arrived in South Korea their difficulties continued: they had to learn how to live in a free capitalistic society, which was not easy.This is an excellent book, and it reads like a novel or a series of excellent memoirs. I couldn't put it down while I was reading it. Even though it is almost 10 years old at this point, it did not feel out of date at all.Highly recommended.4 stars (maybe 4 1/2)
  • (4/5)
    To be very clear, I most appreciated this book for what it says than for how it says it. It can easily be called nitpicking, but I found this book read like NPR radio sounds, namely, ultra calm and civilized, no matter what the topic. Having said that, the author is a fine writer, clear, never off topic. I have to compliment her for doing such a thorough job of pointing out the extraordinarily unique country of North Korea and doing it under extraordinarily difficult to investigate circumstances. In a real sense, North Korea is nearly as isolated in its own bubble as a lost tribe in the deepest jungle. As the narrative progresses, the reader may wonder what makes North Korea end up so differently in the present day world from other communist inspired governments of the past or from other dictatorships, for that matter. The author really doesn't comment on that, but for someone who has studied the Khmer Rouge era of Cambodia, perhaps the ultimate "pure" communist state, as I have, you start noticing the key differences between how North Korea was created and how other communist countries did, such as Cambodia. What affect did the lengthy occupation by Japan play, for instance? While there are great similarities between how the Khmer Rouge Cambodians struggled and how North Koreans struggle, there are noted differences in how the different peoples respond to those troubles. For me, the great value in this book is the questions it provokes in how countries and peoples in those countries respond to global dynamics. Many people will read this and dwell only on how North Koreans struggle. Other countries' peoples have struggled and do struggle. What makes North Korea different from other countries is, in my mind, the more important issue behind this book, even if the author does not point out the contrast directly.
  • (4/5)
    Nonfiction story of 6 defectors from North Korea. Well written journalism and history of the development of North Korea under a totalitarian regime.
  • (5/5)
    Wow! I recently read Logavina Street and loved it so I picked one up too. I was definitely not disappointed. The style was a little different than Logavina Street and took me longer to get engaged with the characters on a personal level, but by the end I was engrossed. The initial history lesson, while dry, was required to set the context for the story to come. The whole situation is a testament to the human will to survive, and a strong cautionary tale of authoritarianism. I strongly recommend this book, even if you don't think you like non-fiction. It largely reads as a novel as Demick doesn't insert herself much and is mostly just relaying the tales told to her by the defectors.
  • (5/5)
    Incredibly interesting and enlightening. I love how I learned about life in North Korea thru ordinary people and their stories, rather than a bunch of boring political figures or a litany of dry historical facts. This is my kind of nonfiction!

    I highly recommend getting the ebook. I was able to check it out from one of my local library systems. It has a chapter at the end that was updated July 2015, so it discusses the recent political happenings and the current climate of North Korea since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011. You won't find that in the printed book (I know, I had checked that out first, but then got the ebook when I found myself wanting to read snippets at my lunch or other breaks at work!).