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Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  12,389 Ratings  ·  1,706 Reviews
A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea's ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il's reign
Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, lear
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Crown (first published 2014)
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La Petite Américaine


So I went to the Suki Kim Q&A last weekend.

I was hard on Kim in my review, but I stand by what I wrote, even more so after having attended the Q&A: she said that her book is investigative journalism and not a memoir, and that it was only labeled a memoir because her publisher insisted on it.

The book is nowhere near investigative journalism, and is one of the weakest North Korea memoirs I've ever read.

So, like I said. I stand by this one.


Okay, what's going on arou
Oct 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Personal Review .......and Audiobook Review of “Without You There Is No Us”

Personal first: News about my surgery yesterday

I’m in bed recovering - can’t see well out of my right eye from swelling - but no major pain - from Mohs surgery. The cancer cells are gone - but because there was a lot of those cancer suckers - I’ll be having a minimum of 3 more surgeries.

I had caught the skin cancer early- but it was growing fast — it had spread substantially from the day I was diagnosed to the day I
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting book about a woman who spends a few months teaching in North Korea. The challenge I had is that it’s not quite a memoir and it’s not quite investigative journalism. Given this book’s backstory of the publisher trying to bill this as memoir I don’t envy the writer’s task in trying to make this Book something it wasn’t intended to be. At times the prose feels too literal. This happened and that happened and this is how I was feeling. I wish there has been either more analysi ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read! I appreciated the insights in Suki Kim’s Without You, There is No Us; however, it is her relationship with her students which resonates most strongly. The way she views them and their potential is inextricably linked to their circumstance as citizens of North Korea. It is clear that she cares deeply for them, but there are things she can’t share with them. An interesting aspect of their behavior is how quickly they resort to lying to cover the vast gaps in their knowledge ...more
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was some incredible and dangerous reporting. Suki Kim pretended to be a Christian missionary so she could teach English at a prestigious university in North Korea. Yeah, that's right — she went undercover in the country that hates Westerners and puts political prisoners in a gulag.

North Korea is such a fascinating place. Every book I read about that regime only feeds my curiosity. This memoir was a nice addition to the field because of Kim's reporting. She took extensive notes during her st
Investigative reporter Suki Kim volunteered to teach English writing skills at the all male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in 2011. A group of evangelical Christian missionaries taught English (but not religion) to the sons of the elite North Koreans. The school was surrounded by guards at all times, and no one was allowed to leave campus except for authorized outings. Lesson plans had to be approved in advance, and the teachers were carefully watched by the North Korean minders. ...more
Diane S ☔
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have previously read other books on North Korea, one that centered on the horrible conditions in the gulags, but this book centers on the schooling of the sons of the elite. The author, whose family had come from South Korea, enters the country of North Korea as a teacher, part of the Christian group that was allowed to build and fully support this school. They were allowed to build this school because it cost the government absolutely nothing and the teachers were given strict mandates. Every ...more
Aug 02, 2014 marked it as aborted-efforts  ·  review of another edition
I scored this from a Goodreads Giveaway, which is basically the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in my life, and I'm pretty depressed that I can't write a rave review since I assume this means no publishers will ever send me a free ARC again.

Oh well.

All the other readers on here loved this and I don't think it's a bad book by any means, but it just wasn't for me. I was excited to read it since I know nothing about North Korea, but I failed to notice the clear and accurate label on
Eastern Gossip

Here are my questions, none of which are answered by the author: Why on earth would North Korea allow Christian missionaries to teach at a military college? Indeed why let them into the country at all since their avowed mission in life (the clue is in the name) is to proselytise the natives? What's the real motive?

Further, why would said missionaries seek or accept such an assignment knowing that they would be stepped on in one way or another the moment they engaged in any talk of
This is a unique entry among the already rare books about life in North Korea. The author is not an escapee or someone working solely as a journalist. Instead, the author has gone voluntarily as part of a delegation of English language teachers to an elite school, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). Suki Kim had to perform two layers of deception - first to the other teachers by posing as a fellow Christian missionary, and secondly to every other person in North Korea.

I mu
April (Aprilius Maximus)
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Really fascinating, well-written and gripping, although the ending was slightly underwhelming.
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: north-korea
Suki Kim is brave. She went doubly undercover by posing as a Christian teacher so she would be hired by missionaries who were founding the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in North Korea. She knew what she was getting into, her family had been torn apart in the war and grieved of a relative trapped in the North. She had visited there before.

The Missionaries who fund this school are not attempting to proselytize right now. They are playing a longer game. Their vision is that the cou
Suki Kim spent about seven months teaching English at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) built in an empty suburb of Pyongyang in 2011. She left Pyongyang the day after the news broke of the death of Kim Jong-Il in the Juche Year 100, which counts time on the calendar beginning with the birth of the original Great Leader, Kim Il-Sung.

Kim’s memoir of that time teaching is full of her fears—fears that she will be kicked out of North Korea, fears that she or her friends or f
Daniel Simmons
Feb 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I spent ten days touring North Korea in September 2013, and I feel like I spent much of that ten-day period inside my own head. This is to say that because NK is the kind of place where you can't talk to other people without fear of (at best) constant monitoring or (at worst) violent reprisals, you end up talking to yourself, waging war with your instincts, reining in your questions, locking down your facial expressions, recording everything around you with a polite smile as your spirit wails aw ...more
In 2011 Suki Kim, a Korean-American journalist, travelled to North Korea to begin a six month teaching position at a university outside of Pyongyang. The students were all young men—the children of some of North Korea’s elite families.

Ms. Kim writes poignantly about the relationships she developed with the students, and about her observations of daily life both inside and outside the university walls. An atmosphere of fear, loneliness and repression engulfed every aspect of life, and was stifli
Rebecca Foster
This is a quietly gripping book even though not much of moment happens over Kim’s five months teaching young men at a missionary-run college in Pyongyang. She was in a unique position in that students saw her as ethnically one of their own but she brought an outsider’s perspective to bear on what she observed. Just before she flew back to the States in 2011, Kim Jong-Il died, an event she uses as a framing device. It could have represented a turning point for the country, but instead history has ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Suki Kim’s long interest in and personal connection to North Korea make this memoir of the time she spent there teaching English to college students especially poignant and riveting. She writes with the skill of an investigative journalist and the heart of someone recounting a heartbreaking story about relatives. Though she moved to America as a child, Kim was born in South Korea and both her mother and father lost close family members to the North when Korea was partitioned, people they were ne ...more
Taryn Pierson
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poc-author, audio
Without You, There is No Us had been on my radar for a while thanks to my interest in the secretive, seemingly dystopian culture of North Korea, but what prodded me to move it up my burgeoning to-read list was a recent NPR interview with its author, Suki Kim, in which she claimed that her publisher disingenuously marketed it as a memoir instead of investigative journalism.

Some people might shrug at that—how big a difference can it be, really? But Kim argues that, while she respects the art of m
Oct 29, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Without You, There Is No Us My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim
Suki Kim

Terrible! Terrible! Terrible! Do not waste the time or money on this one!. Ms. Suki Kim deceives a group of missionaries in accepting her as a Christian English teacher, willing to go to North Korea and teach English to North Korea's affluent's children. Suki deceives the PUST (Pyongyang University of Science and Technology)staff and leadership, PUST staff deceive the North Koreans into believing they are there to teach, and North Korean leadership deceive the kids being taught, that they are
Dec 13, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to rate this book.

As a memoir, I'd give it two stars. First off, no one is reading this book to hear about how she misses her non-boyfriend who lives in Brooklyn. We're reading it because we're interested in the DPRK. Additionally, it doesn't come together as a narrative and none of the characters are fleshed out. While she tells some anecdotes about individual students, they are discrete one-offs, and not part of any coherent characterization. The Christian missionaries that she live
Ms. Smartarse
The most memorable TED talk I watched last year, was a 13-minute-long one by journalist Suki Kim, about her experience of teaching English at a private university in North Korea.

Click on the picture to view the TED talk

It's one of the more visually drab talks, but the atmosphere of it just got me hooked. At the time, I didn't know that said talk was based on a book (i.e. this one), but as soon as Ema had pointed it out, reading it had constantly been in the back of my mind.

Unlike other document
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
After having loved The Interpreter, I was ecstatic when I found out Suki Kim was releasing another book that would be published this year. When I found out it was about North Korea, I was interested but unsure how it would compare to her debut novel.

Without You, There is No Us is about a year Kim spent at a prestigious all-male college of science and technology in North Korea at the end of Kim Jong-Il's life. Having lived in America since the age of thirteen after being born in South Korea, she
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
maaaan, selesai baca ini beneran jadi pengen coba hidup di negara komunis banget hhh.

sebagai orang yang terbiasa tak terduga dan tidak suka hal2 yang konsisten, pola hidup komunis mungkin suatu tantangan yg menarik banget.

mungkin ya.

walaupun sepertinya agak2 serem juga sih.

bagus. rekumen banget.
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: north-korea
Eh. The subject and bits of the book were super interesting. The writing, not so much. I get that when every day is the same, when your freedom is so limited, when everyone is terrified to say anything out of line, that there may not be a great deal to write about. But surely, when you're essentially undercover as a missionary undercover as a teacher, there must be more to write about than your "lover". The last quarter of the book, after the students had warmed up a bit, was so interesting! The ...more
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: north-korea, religion
Without You, There Is No Us by author and journalist Suki Kim is slightly different to the other memoirs by defectors. While most memoirs I have read are about conditions in the camps or dealing with daily life for the poverty-stricken lower and middle classes, this one explores the lives of the rich and 'privileged' boys being groomed to take over the North Korean administration some day.

Suki Kim has basically infiltrated PUST (Pyongyang University of Science and Technology), a Christian-funded
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While obviously controversial, this was an absolutely incredible memoir and piece of investigative journalism written from inside one of the most opaque societies on earth. Suki Kim went undercover as a missionary high-school teacher to provide a glimpse into the lives of the children of North Korea's elite. A journalist with deep history covering the country and the child of Korean immigrants herself, Kim has produced here a powerful and rare look at what life is like for a relatively privilege ...more
Very harrowing book. Lots of scenes are going to stay in my mind for a long time, I'm sure. I wish the author thought more about organising her book better though, by chapters or something else. She gave us so much detail and they were quite overwhelming at times when she just reported what happened and created a chilling hook, but went on almost immediately to another chilling occurrence. But I love her tone and perspective on North Korea - it's refreshing and so eye-opening to hear from a Sout ...more
Kimba Tichenor
This book does offer a fascinating glimpse into North Korean society; however the book itself at times seems to suffer from an identity crisis. Mostly it reads like a memoir, in which the author has a personal vested interest in the story she is telling. As such, she introduces literary flourishes into her narrative. These literary flourishes work well in the context of a memoir. However, because there are points in the narrative where the author emphasizes her status as an investigative journal ...more
Steve Min
Oct 14, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm surprised at the high rating this book received. It had so much potential; a westerner on the inside for months. Yet the book comes across as juvenile and poorly written. The author seems bitter at lots of things which have nothing to do with the story. Her boyfriend. Her obvious bias against Christians. Her seemingly artificial "love" for the boys. Really disappointed.
Rob Slaven
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
As is often the case I received this book free in exchange for a review. I'm not honestly sure by what specific method I received this book but it was probably through a GoodReads giveaway.

This book is a memoir of the author's time spent among missionaries in North Korea working in a North Korean university. Though not a Christian herself she manages to "fake it" well enough to not get kicked out by either the missionaries or the government. During her time she gets to know the students and mana
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Suki Kim is the author of the award-winning novel The Interpreter and the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, and Open Society fellowships. She has been traveling to North Korea as a journalist since 2002, and her essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, and the New York Review of Books. Born and raised in Seoul, she lives in New York.

Her debut novel The Interpreter is a
More about Suki Kim

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“Sometimes the longer you are inside a prison, the harder it is to fathom what is possible beyond its walls.” 6 likes
“How quickly we became prisoners, how quickly we gave up our freedom, how quickly we tolerated the loss of that freedom, like a child being abused, in silence.” 4 likes
More quotes…