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

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
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's review
Jan 12, 2012

it was amazing
Read in January, 2012

Ever since I finished this book I can't stop thinking about it. I started reading it just before Kim Jong-il's death, and reading it during the country's period of mourning made it all the more poignant. I'd heard some things about North Korea in passing, but the details in this book absolutely stunned me. An entire generation physically stunted, and millions dead, due to malnutrition because Kim Jong-il wouldn't let aid workers pass out rations outside the government-approved capital. Prison camps. Children picking kernels of corn from animal feces and washing it in the river so that they could have something, anything, to eat. Deprivation in the form of speech, dress, faith, food, money - every basic human right we can think of as citizens of a first-world country. The end of the book details the escapes to China, Mongolia and South Korea of a handful of people. Once in South Korea (always through illegal means), North Korean citizens are granted political asylum and are given $20,000 to start their life over, along with a two-month intensive course on how to live in the "real" world. How to use an ATM; what the Internet is; what the real history of the rest of the world is - these are just scratching the surface of the things they all needed to be taught. The people of North Korea have lived hard lives, and this book was equal parts horrifying and fascinating. It opened my eyes to a country filled with so many good people yet so many problems. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.
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