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August 2, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
North Korea is a country filled with secrets. Author and award-winning journalist Barbara Demick shows the world a nation where televisions are set to one government station and the leader is treated like a god. The stories of six former North Korean citizens illustrate the country that deceived them.
The book takes place in the 1990s when life in North Korea went downhill. A devastating famine killed one-fifth of the population. The country was still grieving Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung’s death, and his son Kim Jong-il quickly ascended into power. Under Kim Jong-il, the country’s famine and economic turmoil dramatically worsened. The book depicts a pro-regime factory worker who’s the head of her household, her rebellious daughter, a young homeless boy, an optimistic doctor and a pair of secret lovers.
WHERE: Columbia Public Library, Friends Room
WHEN: Noon–1 p.m.
The book is written like a compilation of novellas, which makes it easy to get engrossed in each story. Demick’s work is a rewarding departure from a standard news article about North Korean politics. Readers empathize with these people in light of the lives North Koreans are forced to live and the loved ones they’ve lost. The defectors grow stronger as they overcome tremendous adversity. One of the subjects, Mi-ran, never thought women’s roles in North Korea were fair, so she rode a bike as a child even though it was frowned upon, went to college for a teaching degree and had a forbidden romance.
The sad reality is that most of the characters don’t realize the severity of their living conditions because they have almost no contact with the outside world. This is still true for much of North Korea today. In one section of the book, the factory worker’s daughter, Oak-Hee, watches South Korean television and realizes she has been fed constant lies about their southern neighbors.
The title Nothing to Envy doesn’t mean readers shouldn’t envy North Koreans, but rather that North Koreans are taught not to envy America or any capitalist country. This is the effect of the constant propaganda filtered into North Korean lives every day. The six natives reveal that world in an intimate way, and the often horrific, sometimes inspiring stories take readers to a place no outsider is meant to go.