Library Lady Book Review: Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing To Envy by barbara Demick                                             Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick

Are you sick of the debate over Obama care, of Anthony Weiner, and Congressmen who can’t agree on the time of day?  I have the cure for what ails you.  Read Nothing to Envy Ordinary lives in North Korea, and you’ll appreciate the country you’re in, unless of course,  it’s North Korea.

National book award finalist Barbara Demick, takes us behind  the demilitarized zone and opens the door to a room  most people never see.  North Korea is a strictly closed society, one that locks the world out and locks its citizens in. This is a place where disagreeing with government policy can land you in a labor camp, and where starving people are forced to sing songs of praise to a corrupt leader.

Woven throughout this fascinating narrative are six different stories of people who have escaped North Korea’s terrible oppression.  Mi Ran tells  of her long time love affair with Ju Sang. Unable to marry because of class differences, they meet secretly for years  and manage an occasional stolen kiss. When Mi Ran’s family decides to flee she is reluctant to involve Ju Sang – for his own safety and sadly, for her own, because in this society no one can be fully trusted. In the end, she makes the agonizing decision to disappear without saying goodbye.

Demick also  introduces us to a school teacher who watches her kindergarten class of rambunctious five-year-olds, dwindle to a malnourished few as the country’s shortage of food begins to take its toll. We meet Dr. Kim, a physician who is devoted to the party, but cannot practice with out medicines, Mrs. Song and her daughter, Oak Hee who struggle to survive an impossible situation, and  Kim Hyuck,who is abandoned by his father because he is unable to feed the boy..

While Nothing to Envy, may sound like a grim trudge through unimaginable evil, it is anything but.  Demick’s writing style is compelling and the reader is drawn into these stories of triumph over adversity. The author is after all interviewing people who have broken free of their bonds, and while not wholly unscathed from their past deprivations, they now enjoy a better quality of life.

One of the common sentiments by those who had escaped, was amazement at what they found on the other side.  “All I wanted to do was eat an apple,” said one woman. “It had been so long, I ate apples for days when I first arrived.” Decades of being cut off from the rest of the world, acted as both a blessing and a curse.  People with no access to the internet, television, radio, and non approved books, had no idea what they were missing, on the other hand they missed  a lot.

In Ordinary lives, we see what can happen when governments runs amuck. This book opened my eyes and gave me a new level of appreciation for the freedoms I have.  To be able to feed my family, speak my mind, and write this blog are privileges many people do not enjoy.

For more on this subject see:Why We Wont Visit North Korea


5 thoughts on “Library Lady Book Review: Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea

  1. I read this book and was shocked. I knew North Korea had a lot of human rights violations, but the fact that the government just stood by and watched so many people starve to death is frightening. The worst part is that they wouldn’t allow people to help themselves, no gardens, no commerce. Unfortunately it’s still going on. So Sad.

  2. Thanks for the thought Kelly. I know the situation there is incredibly complicated, but what it boils down to is that we need checks and balances in government. When there’s no debate or no way to stop the ball rolling on a bad idea, then bad ideas will rule.

  3. I have heard others recommend this book as well. But it is not for the faint of heart. It certainly makes one appreciate what we have and feel sorry for the people of North Korea.

  4. Pingback: Books I Loved in 2014! | The Library Lady and Rosie Bear

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