Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) “A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea…[Barbara Demick] draws out details of daily life that would not otherwise be known to Western eyes…As she reveals, ‘ordinary’ life in North Korea by the 1990’s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country’s worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world…[Her] six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country’s descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys.”
This book is heart-wrenching. It is eye-opening and heart-wrenching. I have always known about Kim Jong-il and his father and their totalitarian regimes, but I had NO idea the effect on the people there. I knew they had food shortages, but I had no idea how many people died because of lack of food. And NO electricity. The satellite picture she shows of the difference between North and South Korea is very telling. Learning about each of these individuals and their families made me so emotional and very attached. I cried when she described how the children lived and died. I am very glad, yet not so glad, that I read this book. I like being informed about the world and its happenings so that makes me glad I read it. However, now that I know the plight of the North Korean people I almost feel obligated to help. How can you know this is happening and just continue to look the other way? On the other hand, what in the world would I be able to do about it? This question kept me up all last night. I was so emotional after I finished that I could not sleep, so I thought about this for a long time. I decided that there isn’t much I can do besides maybe writing to my senators and congressmen, or maybe talking to a humanitarian aid program. What I can do, though, is to make sure this never happens here in the United States. I now feel more obligated to give more food to foodbanks and more help to homeless shelters. As a teacher I want to do more to help illiteracy. I would also like to become a bit more involved in politics to keep more of an eye on our government (no matter who is in charge). I hope I can do a little more of this because sometimes I get passionate and then two weeks later I forget. I don’t want to forget. My husband gets mad at me for always taking on more than I can handle, and I do worry about that because I am already involved with my kids’ school, but I think if we all give just a little we can do a lot of good. Anyway, I got off track. I would definitely recommend reading this book. If nothing else it will give you such a sense of gratitude for whatever your situation may be, because even if you are poor in the U.S. that would make you wealthy in North Korea. I am very thankful to be here in this blessed country. Our government may not be perfect, but we have so much, and we can work to fix what we think is broken.
Rating: PG-13 (It is really hard to read. There is so much death, disease, and emotion. There is poverty and very blunt descriptions of the realities in North Korea.)
Recommendation: 18 and up. I think it would be great for an 18-year-old to read with his or her parents. It would be a good time to discuss our rights and privileges, and also to discuss how we can help those around us.