Joe's Reviews > Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
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Aug 03, 11

bookshelves: by-the-ladies, 2011
Read in July, 2011

An instant classic, one of the best works of journalistic non-fiction I've read.

Demick sustains the gripping prose of page-turning investigative reporting without falling into the traps of purple prose (see: Columbine) or memoir filler (see: Factory Girls). She finds a half dozen truly fascinating North Koreans, and uses them each for a dual purpose: to show what's needed to survive the harrowing grayness of life in the DPRK, and the extraordinary measures needed to eventually escape it. The book overflows with the bizarre and unbelievable quirks of a communist country stuck in the 1960's, but it maintains the thesis that normal people can still survive in the midst of famine and repression. When the book's subjects do land in South Korea, Demick is careful to show both what a market-driven democracy can and cannot provide. In essence, we find here one of the few unbiased portraits of the free world's accomplishments. Only by seeing the effects of their deprivation do we learn that the freedoms to love and to learn are as important as food and shelter.
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