Title: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
Author: Barbara Demick
On the Shelves: Non-Fiction
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. “Nothing to Envy” follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years — a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, 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 most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara 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, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where 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. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects — average North Korean citizens — fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them. “Nothing to Envy” is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance. (Goodreads 2014)
I don’t often read Non-Fiction, but North Korea has long been a topic which both fascinates and terrifies me. In case you don’t know, North Korea is run under a dictatorship, compared often to Soviet Stalin. Millions in North Korea are “missing”- aka taken away in the middle of the night to “labour camps” which are more like Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, in the mountains, often never to be seen again. Why? Because someone complained that they didn’t have enough food and that is seen as saying that the Dear Leader isn’t taking care of his people. Often, three generations are carted away for one person’s misdeeds because of “Tainted blood”. You can also get taken away for not cleaning the pictures of the “Dear Leader”/s of the country, which are required to hang on at least one wall in every room in every house.
There is no internet. Electricity only comes on in the capital city of the country for four hours a day. Tourists are only allowed in the capital city of Pyongyang because the rest of the country would horrify them. To make this work, almost all of Pyongyang is “staged” for foreigners. Plastic food lines the windows of shops so people think they have “plenty” under the regime. In reality, the citizens are severely malnourished, often eating a “soup” of water and grass or weeds once a day, because there is no food at all. All the while, this starving nation is fed propaganda by the government that this is all America’s fault. America have put a blockage on stopping food getting to North Korea. By the way- they’ve also re-written history- Korea won the Korean War and America have control of South Korea and have “ruined” it. Kim Jong-Il, instead of actually feeding his people (they were reassured he was living on a poor man’s diet just like they were- have you seen pictures of him? Not bloody likely. Oh and also, they’ve never even heard their “Dear Leader”s own voice), instead of feeding his people, he focussed on hoarding nuclear weapons to “Fight the Coming Arduous March against the Yankee Bastards”- I shit you not.
This book is written by a journalist who interviewed North Korean Defectors for their inside story on their lives in North Korea. The Real North Korea. It follows the story of five or six people spanning three generations, starting with Kim Il-Sung in the 1948-1994, to Kim Il-Jong’s reign (1994-2011), when North Korea had such a famine that there were no frogs left in the country because they were all eaten, to present day Kim Jong-Un/Eun, whom nobody had seen a real picture of until 2010!
I just…have no words for how much North Korea terrifies me. What scares me more is the fact they’ve gotten away with crimes against humanity for decades and yet nobody has done anything to try to topple the regime because everyone is scared because China was backing North Korea. I really recommend this book. It’s like Orwell’s 1984 except the scariest part of this whole thing is that it is not a work of fiction. You don’t just close the book and it goes away:
This is real life. Real people are disappearing, starving, and tortured every day in North Korea, and the world needs to stop turning a blind eye towards it.