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

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
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M 50x66
's review
Sep 06, 2011

liked it

The book gives us a backstage look into the bizarre disaster that is North Korea. Here we have the black comedy of the government slogans (i.e., "Let's just eat two meals a day!") to the stark tragedy of real famine and death that came to them after losing their communist bloc support. Especially under Kim Il-Sung, the whole nation had the feeling of a Jonestown cult. Sleep and food deprivation, coupled with intense propaganda made it so that the death rate soared among the elderly when Il-Sung died. Their god, their world, seemed to have collapsed with him.

The book recounts the lives of several defectors, and all of them experience significant psychological difficulty when leaving, which is not surprising. What will happen when the regime collapses is thrilling and honestly, foreboding at the same time. Whenever the reunion happens it will be much more difficult than uniting East and West Germany. Although I found it fascinating how quickly a black/"free" market arose after a generation of living under one of the most oppressive 20th century regimes during the famine. Perhaps reunification might be a little easier than we think.

The book is well written and the personal stories are all engrossing. I do wish that the author had tackled the question of exactly how the regime has survived. Also, I wish that she had delved deeper into why and how the defectors overcame their initial trauma and finally managed to adapt to South Korea.

All in all, a solid book, but one that left me with many unanswered or unexamined questions.

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