Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

UPDATE: On Monday, December 20th, the North Korean government reported that Kim Jong Il died as a result of heart attack. South Korea has been on high alert since this was reported as a result of the fact that the son of King Jong Il, Kim Jong Un, who is next in line is in his 20s and a mystery to the world. No one knows what changes the new leader will bring the peninsula.

One of the benefits of the YISS community is that I finally get to be in a book club! Last month we read The Hunger Games. I'm sure many of you have read it. Somehow I hadn't even known it existed and the movie is just about to come out! If you like face-paced action-packed fiction (it's aimed at teens), then you'll like The Hunger Games. I think nearly the whole group ended up reading all 3 books because you just can't put them down! It does have some interesting allegories and looking at the traits of the characters that are a result of the world that they have grown up in is very interesting, as well. I can't say that I would recommend it to any teen, but there are lessons that can be learned from this entertaining piece of fiction.

This month, we read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. This is most definitely not a piece of fast-paced fiction. It is a very well-written and engaging book about the turmoil that has been and continues to be going on in North Korea. I will be honest in saying that I really knew very little about the history of North Korea before moving here. In the fall, we had a "Korean Appreciation Week" and we talked a lot about North Korea and South Korea. We watched a video that portrayed the bleak streets of North Korea and a lot of footage of Pyongyang. We also had a guest speaker come and talk about the different projects he is working on to provide food and light for North Koreans. I learned a lot during that week, but I learned a whole lot more from this book.

The book is written by a journalist who was assigned North Korea and was located in Seoul while trying to learn everything she could about the cold, desolate, Communist country. She did a great job of intertwining the facts along with stories of real North Korean defectors that she met while in Seoul. I don't read a lot of non-fiction because I have a hard time staying focused on one fact after another, but Barbara Demick does a great job of getting you engaged in the stories of so many people. A week after I'd finished the book, I was struggling to come up with specific details of the characters by name in our discussion, but I still remember all of the stories even if I don't remember all of the names.

There were a lot facts in the book that I simply couldn't believe. It's incredible to me that a country that shares this little peninsula with South Korea does not have electricity in order to produce food and goods. It's incredible to me that when a doctor from North Korea defects to South Korea, she has to be completely re-trained and just like so many of the other North Koreans, she has no valuable skills in the job market. It's incredible to me the amount of money the South Korean government puts into their training and placement, so that they can do their best to fit in this society. And it is simply unbelievable that this entire country is struggling to eat every day by putting ground corn cobs and tree bark into their soup and there is nothing we can do for them other than pray.

I highly recommend reading this book!


  1. I watched the video about North Korea -- it is astounding how bleak, stark, and starving the people are in every aspect of their lives; socially, culturally, and surely physically. That this exists in the 21st century is an abomination. It's extremely sad.

  2. I'm off to Barnes and Noble on a raining NW day to find the book by Demick. Jarv

  3. Glad I could give an ol' retired guy a reason to get out of the house on a rainy day! I think you guys will like it, Jarv!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...