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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
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February 2014 Books > Page-Turning Non-Fiction:Nothing To Envy

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Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
We will begin reading and discussing this book February 5th. Feel free to share your thoughts/questions about any aspect of the book. Jacob D. will be moderating this discussion.


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Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
Most of the North Korean defectors I read about had defected after the fall of the Soviet Union, which means the end of electricity and beginning of famine in North Korea. Imagine Kim Il-Sung is still alive, there's still electricity, and everyone has enough food: could you see yourself risking your life to get out of North Korea?

They've got cheap movie theater tickets, and you've got no other movies to compare them to--I'm sure they're on par with Steven Seagal movies. That's one perk. Before the downturn in the 90s, what would make people question their lives in North Korea? In this patriarchal society, we see girls complain that the son of the family eats the better meals every night and sits at the better table. Watching your brother getting better treatment every day of your youth might plant the seed of thought that things might be different outside of North Korea.

But then you have someone like Mrs. Song, Oak-Hee's mother, whose dedication to the Fatherland is so unwavering, even after spending her adult life working 15 hours a day at a thankless job. She wants to fulfill her duties for the inminban, the neighborhood watchdog group, because that's what she believes good citizens do. This seems like it would create such toxic communities, where everyone is afraid that their neighbors might turn them in for something. Children are rewarded for turning in their parents. I'd be afraid to confide in anyone. The constant fear and minding everything you do and say would be draining. That would make me start to wonder about places outside of North Korea before the point where I was starving in the dark. At the point of starvation, I would definitely say it's time to skedaddle.


Jill (jillreads) | 13 comments I thought this was a fascinating book. I read it a few months ago so please excuse me if I have some details wrong, but I remember the part where the young man was looking at a propaganda poster about South Korea and he noticed that the man in the picture had a pen in his pocket and how his jacket had certain buttons or a zipper that was expensive. Those details made him question everything. Why did this South Korean have these things that he wished for if it was such an terrible place?
I also remember the part when the Korean woman crossed the border and saw the food left out for the dog and was amazed because it was better than what the North Koreans had to eat.
These stories will remain with me for a long time, and that is a sign to me of a powerful book. It made an impact on me.
Back to your question though - I am not sure I would have the courage to leave knowing what would happen to people close to me if I made it out and they did not.


Katherine | 36 comments I found this book to be very interesting and eye-opening. I love when I learn new things from a book. I too read this book a while ago, but it has stayed with me. After finishing I remember frustrated because I wanted to know more about how the new leadership in the country had effected things.

I don't think I'd have the courage to leave unless someone in my family had already made it out and could assist me. But, when faced with death by starvation, I may decide getting put in prison wouldn't be any worse.


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Edwardsville Public Library (edwardsvillepubliclibrary) | 142 comments Mod
Jill--it's interesting how that poster backfired. DPRK officials used a picture of a laborer that was on strike to show the woes of capitalism. Rather than looking at that laborer with pity, a North Korean notices the ballpoint pen and the zipper. There's also a soldier that notices that build quality of a nail clipper from the US, and it dawns on him that the difference in build quality with this everyday item is the tip of the iceberg; if nail clippers are superior in other countries, then military weapons must also be of superior quality.

These moments of realization are some of the most interesting parts of the book. Jun-Sang has his own awakening at university. Because of his academic accomplishments, he has privileged access to Western novels at the school's library. The way of life described in the Western novels sounds much better than what he'd heard growing up. If more North Koreans could read the Western novels, they might all start to envy the lifestyles outside the DPRK.

The same could be said about Western television programs and any other bit of popular culture outside of North Korea. I found it interesting that North Koreans compare themselves to frogs in a well, who know only of the light directly above them. So, North Koreans are aware that there's more out there than the few TV stations their government gives access to.

How significantly would North Korean society change if they just started getting international television in their homes? Would everyone start to think of running away like Jun-Sang after he began reading Western novels? Would the entire population run for the borders if they got a free trial to HBO?


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