Find your next favorite audiobook

Become a member today and listen free for 30 days
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:
4.5/5 (144 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


Related to Nothing to Envy

Is this audiobook for you?

Gain key insights in 11 minutes with this Scribd Snapshot.

Related Audiobooks
Related Articles

Reviews

What people think about Nothing to Envy

4.6
144 ratings / 105 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

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!).
  • (5/5)
    Barbara Demick interviewed about 100 North Korean defectors and made nine trips to North Korea between 2001 and 2008. Her notes in the back of the book give a glimpse of the tremendous amount of research that went into this portrayal of six selected lives of defectors. Each story of the lives is alarming for the living conditions, cultural restraints and the demands from the leaders of North Korea, Kim il sung, Kim Jong il and Kim Jong un. The real focus is on the lives of the ordinary people trying to survive. Their lives are very different from those in South Korea. From brainwashing starting in kindergarten to the constant struggle to find enough to ea.t The telling of the Great Famine by defectors is horrendous. It brings to mind the famines in China but unlike China, the people have not fully recovered. Many have had stunted growth from the famine in the 1990s and the food supply is still not good. There is tremendous pressure to keep your own secrets. If not, your own children may report you. Each person portrayed had tremendous obstacles and barriers to survival. The best part of this book was the finding the updates at the end of the book about the defectors. I highly recommend this book as a true picture of life in North Korea, the difficulty of escaping and then the final difficulty of adjusting to a completely different world than you have been raised in.
  • (5/5)
    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.)
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    I'm not sure if you can call a book about the breakdown of entire society and the death of thousands as 'wonderful', or 'great', but I'm going to anyway ...
  • (5/5)
    The title truly speaks what my sentiments evolved into as the stories came along. Nothing about the North Korean life portrayed in this piece was enviable or admirable... but it was a look inside an otherwise completely isolated and unknown world that I had never seen before.
  • (5/5)
    The narrative Demick provides about the lives of North-Koreans and how the country's state policies affect people in North-Korea is fascinating and insightful. The writing style is clear and engaging, and personal stories are complemented with accurate and well-documented historical and economical information. Demick provides insights up to 2010, which is extremely recent. This is an important read, especially because the infringement of human rights is ongoing.This is a must read for anyone in the world, and especially for those interested in North-Korea, communist regimes, human rights, foreign cultures/countries, and/or great works of non-fiction. I loved it!
  • (5/5)
    This book tells about the lives of real people who escaped North Korea. One of the few books I couldn't put down, as well as one I have reread multiple times.
  • (4/5)
    Great info on a horrible situation. Hope all is well!!
  • (5/5)
    I listened to this book right after They Thought They Were Free about the middle class German experience in Nazi Germany. Both describe the lives of ordinary powerless people in an increasingly authoritarian society.

    Very relevant for modern times.
  • (5/5)
    Well written! Using real people and their stories to trace the history of North Korea made for an easy to follow and quite engaging book. I would recommend this to anyone interested in North Korean history or just in need of a gripping story.
  • (4/5)
    North Korea has been a closed society since the end of the Korean war, And whilst South Korea has gone from a dictatorship in the 1970’s to a full democracy now, North Korea has maintained its position as a 1950's communist totalitarian state.

    Under the leadership, and I use the word hesitantly, of Kim Il-sung then Kim Jong-il and now Kim Jong-un the country has made little progress. As other communist states have fallen or transformed themselves, the North Koreans have become ever more cruel and brutal to maintain the status quo. Both father and son were treated as Gods by the population, and following the death of Kim Il-sung many people never recovered from they loss. Informants were present when people were paying they respects to see if they were being sincere enough.

    Corruption is endemic at military and Party level, with a lot of the food aid having been taken a sold or consumed by them, and not passed to the population as expected. The population is steadily being starved to death, with there being little or no food available these days. Mass state brainwashing still takes place, with the 'enemies' of the state regularly slated by the authorities.

    Demick has sensitively recorded the lives of six people who escaped this repugnant regime. Through the book she retells their stories of hardship, starvation, deaths of family members, imprisonment and of working for the state as it slowly crumbles around them. When these people had managed to escape into China, and then onto South Korea they could not believe their new world, unlike anything that they had ever seen. And so very different from the world outside according to the authorities.

    It is a painfully book to read, partly because that you cannot believe that a state like this cannot and should not exist in the 21st century, but also because it at the moment shows no signs of collapse. The ending is most poignant, whilst the elite and select visitors get to dine of fine foods the population is malnourished, stunted and has taken to sitting on their haunches whilst time stand still in this country.

    It makes for grim reading, but people must read this.
  • (5/5)
    If you're hesitant about reading this book don't be. Very interesting accounts of people who lived in North Korea and were able to get out and their struggles to assimilate.
  • (4/5)
    Wow, what an eye-opening book this was! It’s no wonder that I don’t know much about North Korea, it doesn’t seem like much information gets in or out of this locked- down country. It is truly amazing that an “industrialized” country can be this oppressed and backward in the 21st century.

    It was mind-boggling to hear how this country is run. Electricity is only available for short amounts of time during the day ever since Russia and China stopped subsidizing their electricity. They have to have travel passes to go from one city into another, it is illegal for private individuals to own a car, there are few televisions and everything that is broadcast is government produced or distributed, few have computers and no one has access to the internet. There are still huge food shortages, even though the famine of the 1990’s is technically over, and malnutrition is still very high. The list of things they don’t have or can’t do goes on and on.

    Demick tries to cover a lot of ground in this 294 page account, from background history on how Korea was split, and other contextual information on how the government is run, to historical information about specific cities and regions, to the personal stories of her main 6 characters, to background stories of their family members and friends, to details about the famine. Her narrative goes back and forth between all of these different stories and accounts, as well as between time and region, and honestly I got confused a lot about who was who, or who was whose daughter, and who was whose husband. I found this to be the only real flaw in the book.

    Overall I thought it was an insightful, informative look into one of the last Totalitarian regimes in the world.
  • (4/5)
    A really good account of what life is like for many in North Korea. Much of it was so horrific, I couldn't believe that it was actually happening. It seemed more like a dystopian novel, as Becky said. I would recommend it, although parts were quite depressing.
  • (4/5)
    A fascinating portrayal of life in North Korea and how people survive in extreme circumstances. Demick does a very fine job of showing the universality of human emotions and what is going on behind those blank faces that we see in pictures taken in North Korea. The last section about how defectors fared in South Korea were equally interesting. The qualities that helped them survive (and escape from) North Korea, also helped them, after a time, adapt to a completely new and rather baffling country.
  • (4/5)
    I thought I knew a little about what life was like in North Korea before reading this. I'd seen years ago photos of a super highway with no cars on it, and a poster advertising the government permitted hairstyles. I had no idea that this was merely scratching the surface, and that most of the country remains in abject poverty. Like the years of the famine in the 1990s (2 million people died - I had no idea), as of 2010 people were still hiking out to the countryside to find grass and weeds to eat, with most people living in a constant state of starvation.Having finished the book, my head is still trying to get around this, and moreover that the Western world allows this to go on. I wonder would things be different if it was a country rich in oil reserves...North Korea, the ultimate closed state, was always going to be an interesting read, but I think Barbara Demick did a fantastic job with this book. By taking the lives of 6 defectors, she brought a human narrative to a non-fiction subject, and these 6 people became fascinating real life protagonists, with love stories and personal tragedies.It's sad there's no happy ending to this book, and that if anything the country is declining further backwards.4 stars for a fascinating and shocking read.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this book, such great insight into the lives of North Koreans! Amazing how much I learned from this book!!
  • (4/5)
    This book took me ages to finish, but not because it wasn't a great book! Rather, it is such a candidly written piece of non-fiction that I had to take it in pieces, as often the situation of the individuals in the book were so horrific I had to take a break from reading. If you are interested in Political Economy, Poverty, Human Rights, or international development READ THIS. It's a great demonstration of how the decisions of the Governing directly affect the Governed.
  • (4/5)
    I thought that the individual stories were an effective way of communicating how people survive (or not) in North Korea - the same facts told in a more abstract manner would not have had the same impact. I found all of it affecting, and the section on the famine almost unbearable. Because it follows the lives of six defectors, it is gripping and accessible.- you see behind the rather disturbing scenes of goose stepping and mass hysteria and begin to have an inkling of what living under such a regime does to people.
  • (5/5)
    Well-written account of everyday life for people in North Korea. While my ignorance about the collapse of North Korea's infrastructure and the terrible famine during the 1990s can be partially excused by the fact that their own government works hard to conceal these things, I am embarrassed by how little I knew. The lives Demick describes are not primarily of downtrodden oppressed people who burned with the desire to overthrow the system or even to escape the system, but of people who truly believed in communism and Kim Il-sung and were bewildered by how wrong it all went. In this "information age", it was truly frightening to learn how isolated the North Korean people are with no access to information other than what is provided by the government, especially outside the capital. Unlike the students in Tianmen Square, these people have no Internet access and most don't have even state-run television or radio.Demick does a good job of showing how people adjust as things went from good to not so good to terrible. These are the stories of survivors & I am fairly sure that I would not have been able to cope with the deprivations and restrictions that these people faced. The ingenuity and resiliance displayed is amazing, heart-wrenching and yet uplifting...
  • (4/5)
    This is an incredible work of narrative reporting. It’s also a vital document that gives voice to the citizens of a nation that’s committed probably the worst repression of free will in modern history--a nation that keeps its people believing they have “nothing to envy” and that things are much worse in the rest of the world. It’s assembled from a series of interviews with a handful of North Koreans who defected to South Korea at enormous risk, and their stories give a deeply human dimension to what everyone in the first world knows mostly through headlines alone.One by one, these North Koreans--Oak-hee, Mrs. Song, Mi-ran, Hyuck, and Jun-sang, among others--come to face a snowballing misery: theirs is a country without electricity, industry, or even privacy, abandoned by once-Communist nations turned westward, wracked by starvation, and blanketed with the constant threat of execution for even a whiff of dissent to Kim Jong-il’s delusional, nuclear arms-obsessed regime (which still refers to the dead Kim Il-sung as “eternal leader.”) But out of hunger and desperation--and as untold hundreds of thousands (and eventually as many as 2 million) of their countrymen die of famine--these increasingly intrepid North Koreans come to “unlearn a lifetime of propaganda” and conjure the will to survive. Their dramatic escapes, and their struggles to start bewildering and often seriously disorienting new lives in South Korea, are hallmarks of one of the most enthralling awakenings anyone could imagine. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    This book chronicles the lives of several ordinary families from North Korea, first describing their lives there in detail in the North, then telling of their escapes through China and finally, briefly, of their new lives in South Korea. It is an amazing job of reporting. The author respects the lives and stories of the individuals who must have spent hours telling her of their past. Each story remains the person's own story while also adding to our knowledge of the bleak but mysterious world of North Korea.
  • (5/5)
    Like most people in the world, I know next to nothing about North Korea. In fact, until last year, I admit that all my knowledge about North Korea derived from the US media coverage of their nuclear threats and militaristic actions, which invariably led to uninformed blanket statements like, "Ugh, why don't we just preventatively nuke the entire country and get it over with?"To anyone who thought like I did a mere year ago, I recommend NOTHING TO ENVY. This is probably the most accessible book for the general public that depicts the lives of 20-million-plus people who aren't part of Kim Jong-Il's bravado-wielding troupe. In it are people who, for most of their lives, rarely, if ever, gave a thought to the hypocrisy and brainwashing of their country's "educational system." These are people who are merely struggling to survive, to attain a job that supports them in an era of famine, that pleases their parents, that makes themselves happy as well. These are people trying to fall in love in an anachronistic society where social "castes" basically still exist and are deadly to cross.To understand North Korea, you need to understand the gulags, the 21st-century concentration work camps. You need to understand the party insiders that surround and build upon the Kim family's paranoia and delusions. And you need to understand the ones who get the least coverage in our media: the ordinary citizens, people who, but for a cruel twist of fate (if you believe in that stuff), are forced to live in North Korea, and not in another country where they could be free.
  • (4/5)
    Great! I was worried at points that the interpersonal drama would water down the picture of North Korea, but that never happened. The book is much more approachable than Bradley Martin's Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, and a great introduction to the bizarre world of NK. The best compliment that I can give the book is that I was at times genuinely worried about the survival of main characters, even though it was an obvious conclusion that they survived and escaped NK to tell their tales.