Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick
Nothing to Envy is next month’s pick for my mom’s club book club. Now, as you can probably guess if you’ve been following me for even a short time, I don’t read non-fiction. Not as a rule, but simply because I’ve been more interested in fiction and haven’t had a non-fiction book cross my path that sound appealing. Honestly, I only gave Nothing to Envy a try because it was for book club. I should probably learn by now “not to judge a book by it’s cover” (or genre), because I loved this book, even though I assumed it would be dry and boring (so far from the truth). It was eye-opening and challenging to read, but it was written in an engaging, gripping way, so I was drawn in at the first chapter. Demick is gifted in story-telling. I was impressed that she could take a subject matter that has never peaked my interested and have me fully invested in it in a matter of minutes.
Demick was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in the 1990’s. She was reporting out of Seoul and worked for years to get into North Korea, but when she was able to, she found she was virtually restricted from any truth because of North Korea’s policies of only showing a good face. Demick shifted tactics and began interviewing North Koreans who had defected and were mostly living in South Korea. In her book, Demick focuses on the stories of 5 individuals: Mrs. Song, Oak-hee, Dr. Kim, Jun-sang, and Mi-ran. As Demick captures their lives, she also informs her reader about North Korean politics and policies. As someone knowing nothing about North Korea, (other than that fact that it’s an isolated communist country), it was eye-opening for me to learn about this country. I’m still processing the realities of North Koreans: from a dictatorship that requires permission to own a television or to visit a neighboring town, to people imprisoned for saying the littlest thing against their leader, to the suppression of technological and cultural advances (like electricity and appliances), to the wide-spread, long lasting starvation of an entire people. It is heartbreaking and cruel and deeply saddening. It is hard to believe that people are so restricted and unable to have the basics (such as food), when we live in a country of such freedom. However, even with all the the turmoil and hardship, Demick writes about hope. The hope for people who are able to leave and start a new life for themselves (as difficult and challenging as that is), and hope that one day Korea might be united again.
Summing it up: Demick writes in away that sweeps you into the lives of others and gives you perspective on something outside of your own bubble. Her non-fiction is anything but dry and I’m so happy I gave it a chance. Though there are some difficult situations to read, I highly recommend this book.
All the best, Abbey