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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

4.41  ·  Rating details ·  72,786 ratings  ·  7,952 reviews
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

Taking us into a landscape most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings
Kindle Edition, 338 pages
Published December 29th 2009 by Spiegel & Grau
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Silvia Cachia Mugen, you WILL UNDERSTAND the book. I didn't know anything, or not much about North Korea, and it was an eye opening book, with beautiful albeit pain…moreMugen, you WILL UNDERSTAND the book. I didn't know anything, or not much about North Korea, and it was an eye opening book, with beautiful albeit painful narrations of several people and families through the years. The writer is very clear and writes with skill, I couldn't stop listening to it (I got it on audio).(less)
Amy This is not a novel, but first-hand true stories of life in N. Korea told by people who have defected. It does tell about their travels and travails a…moreThis is not a novel, but first-hand true stories of life in N. Korea told by people who have defected. It does tell about their travels and travails as they escape a totalitarian regime. It is very compelling.(less)

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Emily May
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, nonfiction
They don’t stop to think that in the middle of this black hole, in this bleak, dark country where millions have died of starvation, there is also love.

A painfully human look at North Korea (mostly) through the eyes of defectors now living in South Korea or China.

Demick peels back the layers of propaganda, parades and leader worship to expose the people and lives underneath. If you're anything like me, you'll find it hard not to be fascinated by this exceptionally secretive country and wonder
Will Byrnes
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
One thread of this riveting National Book Award finalist is a love story. Mi-san is an attractive girl from a family that does not have the right stuff, history-wise, her father having fought for South Korea in the war. They are considered “impure” by the North Korean government and society as a whole. Her prospects are only so-so. Jun-sang is headed to university in Pyongyang to study science. His future includes a good job, a membership in the party and a life of relative privilege. One enchan ...more
Dec 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Shirley by: Sarah Bookbinder
An amazing, unforgettable book about North Korea. Barbara Demick explores the most closed-off society in the world through the stories of six "ordinary" North Koreans who defect to South Korea beginning in the late 1990s. Through their stories, Demick covers a bit of everything (the pathological weirdness that was/is Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il and the cult of worship - and fear of reprisal - that made people cry harder at the former's death than they ever had in their lives, the role of a total ...more
Feb 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are few books like this written today: concise, well-researched, plainly yet effectively written, and free of hyperbole. This book is a very personal account of six lives in the failed state of North Korea. The level of deprivation and humiliation these people endure is heartbreaking. The book reads more like an outstanding piece of social anthropology than it does cut and dried journalism. The author is to be commended for her ability to get inside both the hearts and minds of the people ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the aftermath of the Korean war my mother's brother left an enigmatic note on his pillow before stepping out for school. He never returned and the family lamented his apparent suicide.

A half century later a list of names is published in Koreas' national paper. Part of the warming relations between North and South Korea, it offered the chance for families separated by the border to connect. So far nearly 20 thousand Koreans have participated in face-to-face meetings. My uncle's name is there
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
The ordinary people whose lives are presented in this incredible book lead no ordinary lives. They survive against all odds, despite the totalitarian system which aims at supressing everything that is called normal: normal working conditions, normal education, normal shops, normal family bonds etc. etc. So far I have watched only several short documentaries on North Korea, now I have read a book which is not fiction. Written ten years ago, it is a collection of accounts by those fortunate who ha ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is a 2009 nonfiction book by Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick, based on interviews with North Korean refugees from the city of Chongjin who had escaped North Korea.

In 2010, the book was awarded the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. It was also a nonfiction finalist for the National Book Award in 2010.

Demick interviewed more than 100 defectors and chose to focus on Chon
Oct 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political
A physician, possessing numerous years of education and selfless service to her people, comes upon a isolated farm in a dark field at twilight. The doctor is starving, malnourished and ravenous. She seeks crumbs, maybe a scrap of corn to eat. Slowly, she makes her way into a barn, musty with the odor of hay and equipment. She has not seen more than a handful worth of white rice in years. Indeed, white rice is a rare luxury in the world she comes from.

Suddenly, she sees in the dark of the barn a
Nov 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book was simultaneously a page-turner and hard as hell to read. I had trouble falling asleep last night because of it, and when I did I had some unsettling nightmares. This isn't a book I can read, write an "oh that's nice, that definitely added to my life" type of review and go about my day. This is some seriously skillful nonfiction. It calls to mind being fourteen and reading Wild Swans. There's a similar structure to both works; history of a country to get the big picture, and memoirs o ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to JanB by: Jenna
Shelves: 2019-reads, audiobook
Far from a dry accounting filled with historical detail, this is a look into the lives of six average North Koreans who eventually defect, giving investigative journalist Barbara Demick access to their stories. We are given a peek into what it is like to live under an extreme totalitarian regime. Children are taught to sing anthems of praise where they "have nothing to envy in this world." They are taught that they live in the greatest place on earth, and they know so little of the outside world ...more
Iris P
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

 photo Barbara Author 2.jpg-20130212_zpszoptyjca.jpg
Barbara Demick is an American author and journalist

"Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world. Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party. We are all brothers and sisters. Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid, our father is here. We have nothing to envy in this world."
Popular song taught to North Korean school children praising the Dear Leader
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm really pleased that I discovered and decided to purchase this book. I've always wondered how such a horrible regime could hold for so long, and now I've had quite a few questions answered. I've seen the propaganda, and have always wondered what's going on behind those blank faces. Now, I'll know just a bit of the true conflict, sadness and horror. Thanks to the author for these insights into just a few lives of these brave, strong willed people. Highly recommended ...more
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in what happens on our globe
This book is a must read — an absolute MUST READ! It is inexcusable not to be informed about what has been going on in North Korea. What we hear on the news is just simply not enough.

There are great reviews of this book on Goodreads. So I won’t elaborate about the contents of this book.

What I would like to do is compare The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (in short DPRK, or just simply North Korea) to Hitler’s Third Reich.

Upfront: The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is just as much
On December seventeenth in 2011, Kim Jong-il has died. Known to the world as the supreme leader of the world's most closed society, the "hermit kingdom" which encompasses the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, he has received the posthumous titles of the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission. His death has been mourned by the population in a dramatic and uncontrolled way, with people crying helplessly and expressing t ...more
Apr 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Shelley
Shelves: world, 5-star-books
North and South Korea at night

Marvellous. I would say a must read.

This book has several threads....

Firstly it discusses the general idiosyncrasies of life in North Korea under the guru gaze of Kim il-sung and then Kim Jong-il. Think Gulliver's Travels mixed with Alice in Wonderland, then give it a good shake.... I could hardly believe what I was reading. It's another world, and not in a good way.

Secondly, it follows the lives of several people who ultimately defect to South Korea. These people give us great insight int
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Correct, 4 stars. I know, I know, I don't give stars but I've decided that when I have little to say or add to the many superior reviews of a book, perhaps the stars and a few words from me will suffice.

I have been meaning to read something, anything about North Korea for some time now. With the strife between our countries it seems paramount now. What better than to hear personal stories from the people who live there to give me a better understanding of mindset?

Though Barbara Demick's book wa

The subtitle is “Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” but “Extraordinary Lives in North Korea” may be more fitting. Author Barbara Demick chose to approach the topic of North Korea smartly--by interviewing at length a handful of North Korean defectors from various walks of life. Actually, “interviewing” feels inaccurate. She presented the kinds of intimate details exchanged between confidants. North Korea is unlike any country on Earth, and the subjects of this book are very unlike t
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jenna by: Beata
Shelves: non-fiction
The Koreas at Night (PT)
Satellite image of the Koreas at night, by the Expedition 38 crew

What is it about North Korea that commands our attention? I find it hard to resist books written about this strange country, ruled by the iron fist of an even stranger dictator and his strange predecessors. When I started this book, my fiancee asked why I wanted to read another book about North Korea; after all, there probably isn't much more to learn that I haven't already in other books. This closed off country doesn't exactl
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you thought that George Orwell's satires Animal Farm and 1984 are just works of fiction, think again. Look at a map and find North Korea. That's a present-day, real-life Animal Farm.

But, since it's written by an American, it should still be read with a grain of salt.
"It is not easy for somebody who has escaped a totalitarian country to live in the free world. Defectors have to rediscover who they are in a world that offers endless possibilities. Choosing where to live, what to do, even which clothes to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustomed to choices. It can be utterly paralyzing for people who've had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives."

These are the stories of North Korean defectors: people who risked everyth
LeAnne: GeezerMom
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can any book about North Korea and its people not be fascinating? This one is a composite tale of six people who defected from this very bizarre country and were interviewed at length, off and on for a period of years. Because I read a surreal work of fiction by Adam Johnson called The Orphan Master's Son, a novel that was very well researched (and which I highly recommend), there were probably not as many surprises for me as for another reader who knows even less about North Korea.

Zöe Yu
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korean
This is an incredible book! I rarely cry for books though am a greedy reader. "Nothing to Envy" makes me cry many times. I can't stop reading it.

I never try to understand North Korea, for Chinese people like me, North Korea is ignored. We are proud of our market and economy, meanwhile making jokes of North Korea partner. But I don't know North Korea people live in such a condition in 1990s, when I was a troubled teenager.

Some of the stories sound familiar, yes, it happened in China and CCCP bef
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
I started reading this book as a buddy read with a Goodreads friend, but she decided it wasn’t the right book at the right time for her, so I continued on alone, grateful that it had been her suggestion and I got it off my to read shelf, and I’m so glad that I did.

There is a helpful map and I love maps in books, though I wish it had been even more heavily labeled as many places were mentioned didn’t appear on it. I also appreciated the photos. Each chapter started with one photo, though I wish t
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
This was an extremely well written book about the ills that are experienced by those who live in North Korea. Operating under a regime that would make "big brother" proud, these poor people suffer from inhumane living, working, and survival elements that make those of us use to freedom and free choice cringe. The author, Miss Demick, follows the lives of six people whose lives are so controlled that they are not even permitted to embrace in public. Living under a dictatorship, the only other tha ...more
Woman Reading
5 ☆ Horrifyingly fascinating
North Korea is not an undeveloped country; it is a country that has fallen out of the developed world.

I had finally gotten to George Orwell's works about a year ago. His iconic novels were startling enough, but my dismay was elevated to a whole new level by Nothing to Envy, which is the real life manifestation of Orwellian themes. Based on oral histories collected from six defectors during interviews from 2001 to 2008, Demick's book detailed the lives of common peo
North Korea reminds me of the old kingdom of the Zulus, in that it seemed only possible for both states that only one man could ever be fat, the nation's strategic fat reserves carried for security on one person, rather as the Merovingians made long hair their distinctive marker of royal status so these modern states had the male pot belly.

Journalist Barbara Demick has sown together a narrative account of six North Korean lives from the city of Chongjin in the north west from the 1990s through t
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s one thing to read dystopias like 1984 and theoretically visualize an authoritarian government; it’s another thing entirely to read of real people who actually live under totalitarian rule. If the reading of a classic like the former is perhaps a more powerful reading experience, this nonfiction work proves a more empathetic one.

Demick writes in an ‘easy’ style, making this a work anyone can (and perhaps should) consume. The details of the rough lives of her six subjects and their resourcefu
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very engaging look at North Korea. You hear so many stories about what happens there but book really brought everything to the front. I have tried to read another book somewhat on North Korea and just could not finish it. Nothing to Envy kept me enthralled from the very beginning. It is hard to believe the things that went on in the country especially in the times we live in today. It is a heart-breaking read but an eye opening one also. Not to be missed.
Connie G
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
North Korea is so closed off to the rest of the world that Barbara Demick had to interview defectors who escaped to South Korea to learn what conditions were like in the North. She concentrated on six individuals from Chongjin, a northwestern city, who crossed a river into China and eventually reached South Korea.

They told the author about the famine under Kim Il-sung and Kim Song-il when thousands died. Industry stopped due to lack of power, workers were not paid, and monthly allotments of food
I loved this book. I really knew next to nothing about North Korea before I read it, and it was a great introduction. Basically the North Korean regime is like one of those psychos who's kidnapped a bunch of little kids and keeps them chained in the basement their whole lives so they never know anything of the outside world, only unlike when psychos do this everyone else in the global neighborhood basically knows what's going on in that creepy house.

Demick's book relies on extensive interviews w
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Barbara Demick is an American journalist. She is the author of Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood (Andrews & McMeel, 1996). Her next book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, was published by Spiegel & Grau/Random House in December 2009 and Granta Books in 2010.

Demick was correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer in Eastern Europe from 1993 to 1997. Along with

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When it comes to whiling away the dog days of summer, nothing is better than a good book. Or two. Or three. Let’s say ten! We’re getting...
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“North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people. But consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast doubt on Kim Il-sung's divinity. Who could possibly resist?” 50 likes
“North Korean defectors often find it hard to settle down. It is not easy for somebody who’s escaped a totalitarian country to live in the free world. Defectors have to rediscover who they are in a world that offers endless possibilities. Choosing where to live, what to do, even which clothes to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustomed to making choices; it can be utterly paralyzing for people who’ve had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives.” 38 likes
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