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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
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Nothing to Envy Quotes (showing 1-30 of 83)
“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?”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“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.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic. So it was for Mi-ran. What she didn't realize is that her indifference was an acquired survival skill. In order to get through the 1990s alive, one had to suppress any impulse to share food. To avoid going insane, one had to learn to stop caring.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“But now she couldn’t deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Liberty and love These two I must have. For my love I’ll sacrifice My life. For liberty I’ll sacrifice My love.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“As Mrs. Song would observe a decade later, when she thought back on all the people she knew who died during those years in Chongjin, it was the "simple and kindhearted people who did what they were told-- they were the first to die.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“The more there was to complain about, the more important it was to ensure that nobody did.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Supervisors routinely fabricated statistics on agricultural production and industrial output because they were so fearful of telling their own bosses the truth. Lies were built upon lies, all the way to the top, so it is in fact conceivable that Kim Il-sung himself didn't know when the economy crashed”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“If North Koreans paused to contemplate the obvious inconsistencies and lies in what they were told, they would find themselves in a dangerous place. They didn't have a choice. They couldn't flee their country, depose their leadership, speak out, or protest. In order to fit in, the average citizen had to discipline himself not to think too much.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“A North Korean soldier would later recall a buddy who had been given an American-made nail clipper and was showing it off to his friends. The soldier clipped a few nails, admired the sharp, clean edges, and marveled at the mechanics of this simple item. Then he realized with a sinking heart: If North Korea couldn’t make such a fine nail clipper, how could it compete with American weapons?”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“There was the natural human survival instinct to be optimistic.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“A coal miner from Chongjin whom I met in 2004 in China told me, "People are not stupid. Everybody thinks our own government is to blame for our terrible situation. We all know we think that and we all know that everybody else thinks that. We don't need to talk about it.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“As her students were dying, she was supposed to teach them that they were blessed to be North Korean.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“...the strength of the regime came from its ability to isolate its own citizens completely.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“It is axiomatic that one death is a tragedy, a thousand is a statistic.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“As she sat alone in the apartment, the enormity of it all started to sink in. Any hope that the North Korean regime might change with the death of Kim Il-sung was quickly dashed. The power had passed to his son. Things weren't going to get any better. She heard her father's words replaying in her ears. "The son is even worse than the father." "Now we're really fucked," she said to herself. Only then did tears of self-pity fill her eyes.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“IF YOU LOOK AT SATELLITE PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE FAR EAST by night, you’ll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light. This area of darkness is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Under a system that sought to stamp out tainted blood for three generations, the punishment would extend to parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins. A lot of people felt if you had one life to give, you would give it to get rid of this terrible regime, but then you're not the only one getting punished. Your family would go through hell.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“When outsiders stare into the void that is today’s North Korea, they think of remote villages of Africa or Southeast Asia where the civilizing hand of electricity has not yet reached. But North Korea is not an undeveloped country; it is a country that has fallen out of the developed world. You can see the evidence of what once was and what has been lost dangling overhead alongside any major North Korean road — the skeletal wires of the rusted electrical grid that once covered the entire country.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Life, Love and Death in North Korea
“Dr. Kim couldn't remember the last time she'd seen a bowl of pure white rice. What was a bowl of rice doing there, just sitting out on the ground? She figured it out just before she heard the dog's bark.

Up until that moment, a part of her had hoped that China would be just as poor as North Korea. She still wanted to believe that her country was the best place in the world. The beliefs she had cherished for a lifetime would be vindicated. But now she couldn't deny what was staring her plainly in the face: dogs in China ate better than doctors in North Korea.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Chang-bo took to his bed, or rather to the quilts on the floor that was all they had left. His legs swelled up like balloons with what Mrs. Song had come to recognize as edema — fluid retention brought on by starvation. He talked incessantly about food. He spoke of the tofu soups his mother made him as a child and an unusually delicious meal of steamed crab with ginger that Mrs. Song had cooked for him when they were newlyweds. He had an uncanny ability to remember details of dishes she had cooked decades earlier. He was sweetly sentimental, even romantic, when he spoke about their meals together. He would take her hand in his own, his eyes wet and cloudy with the mist of his memories.
“Come, darling. Let’s go to a good restaurant and order a nice bottle of wine,” he told his wife one morning when they were stirring on the blankets. They hadn’t eaten in three days. Mrs. Song looked at her husband with alarm, worried that he was hallucinating.
She ran out the door to the market, moving fast and forgetting all about the pain in her back. She was determined to steal, beg — whatever it took — to get some food for her husband. She spotted her older sister selling noodles. Her sister wasn’t faring well — her skin was flaked just like Chang-bo’s from malnutrition — so Mrs. Song had resisted asking her for help, but now she was desperate, and of course, her sister couldn’t refuse.
“I’ll pay you back,” Mrs. Song promised as she ran back home, the adrenaline pumping her legs.
Chang-bo was curled up on his side under the blanket. Mrs. Song called his name. When he didn’t respond, she went to turn him over — it wasn’t diffcult now that he had lost so much weight, but his legs and arms were stiff and got in the way.
Mrs. Song pounded and pounded on his chest, screaming for help even as she knew it was too late.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Listening to South Korean television was like looking in the mirror for the first time in your life and realizing you were unattractive.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“It is worth noting here how extraordinary it was for anyone to be homeless in North Korea. This was, after all, the country that had developed the most painstaking systems to keep track of its citizens. Everybody had a fixed address and a work unit and both were tied to food rations—if you left home, you couldn’t get fed. People didn’t dare visit a relative in the next town without a travel permit. Even overnight visitors were supposed to be registered with the inminban, which in turn had to report to the police the name, gender, registration number, travel permit number, and the purpose of the visit. Police conducted regular spot checks around midnight to make sure nobody had unauthorized visitors. One had to carry at all times a “citizen’s certificate,” a twelve-page passport-size booklet that contained a wealth of information about the bearer. It was modeled on the old Soviet ID. All that changed with the famine. Without food distribution, there was no reason to stay at your fixed address. If sitting still meant you starved to death, no threat the regime levied could keep people home. For the first time, North Koreans were wandering around their own country with impunity.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
“Anybody with a functioning brain cannot not know that something is wrong.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Often children came in with minor colds or coughs or diarrhea and then suddenly, they were dead.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea
“He was polite, respectful, not daring even to hold Mi-ran’s hand until they’d been dating for three years.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Emotions somehow meant more when they were handwritten on precious scraps of paper and conveyed on slow trains running out of fuel.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“The city of 500,000 is wedged between a granite spine of mountains zigzagging up and down the coast and the Sea of Japan, which Koreans call the East Sea.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“Afterward she wondered what had happened to the man. Could he have died of hunger? Despite the fact that nobody had quite enough food these days and even the government had acknowledged a food crisis after the floods of the previous summer, Mi-ran had never heard of anybody starving to death in North Korea. That happened in Africa or in China. Indeed, the older people talked of all the Chinese who died during the 1950s and 1960s because of Mao’s disastrous economic policies. “We’re so lucky to have Kim Il-sung,” they would say.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
“In North Korea, you don’t own your own home; you are merely awarded the right to live there.”
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

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