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

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
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Jul 09, 12

Read in July, 2012

I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea in 2009 and desperately wanted to visit the DMZ to see what life was like behind that other "iron curtain." Having lived in South Korea for 2 years, my husband persuaded me that it wouldn't be a very smart thing to do at this point especially since North Korea had just launched a missile delaying our flight into South Korea.

Ever since that trip I've been a little bummed we didn't go, so when this book was suggested for our book club, I couldn't have been more excited to get a glimpse into the lives of a North Korean.

It's not a book for everyone. If you have no interest in North Korea or communist countries, you probably will find it a little slow and hard to follow. I, on the other hand, found it fascinating to discover what life it like in a country that has shut out the world.

The irony of the famine during the 1990s was that it created a society where the people began to shun the government, trying desperately to find whatever food they could to survive, often creating black markets and attempting border crossings into China to find food which led to brokers who would helped people leave the country for good. I was amazed that the border between North Korea and China was nothing more than a river that could be waded across and that even North Korean border guards could be bribed with money.

I also felt for the defectors, the ones who actually made it to South Korea, only to be thrust in to a society having no technical or social skills and just wanting to return "home" to North Korea.

I strongly suspect that if the North Korean government had actually accepted food and help from the UN and kept their citizens fed during the famine that it would largely be the same country it had been for 60 years. This book left me with the impression that the country is still very much in the dark, but that the people of North Korea have become more disenchanted and disillusioned with their government.
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