Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy'Review by Marianne Hooper

Through the recollections of six North Korean defectors, LA Times Beijing based journalist, Barbara Demick, paints an exceedingly grim picture of the lives of everyday citizens of North Korea.  The book is a great read and presents a telling first-hand look into a people and culture very far removed – geographically and ideologically – from our own.

Looking at a night time satellite photo, North Korea is practically invisible; a black hole devoid of energy; a stark contrast to its brightly lit neighbors South Korea, Japan and China.  Similar to their scarcity of energy, the North Korean people are also lacking unfiltered knowledge and information about the world outside of their insular country.  The only information they are allowed to receive is that conveyed by the government through print and limited television media.  There is little power for the internet and, in any case, all access is blocked.

This handful of individuals tells of repression, starvation, depravation, and mind control.   One of the defectors, upon crossing the river into China, comes upon a bowl filled with rice and meat set out for a family’s pet dog. In an instant she realizes that the dogs in China eat better than the North Korean people. This is in direct contrast to what she has been taught to believe:  that North Koreans have the best life thanks to their leader Kim Jong-il and his henchmen. No electricity, barely and food or health care, and an existence marked by fear and brainwashing. This is how the people of this country live out their lives led by a ruthless totalitarian despot who lives his life wanting for nothing. It is an unimaginably difficult and heart wrenching existence.

Check availability on Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

About the reviewer: Marianne is part of the Tredyffrin Public Library reference team and helps with library administration.  In 2000, she finally joined the staff of her local library after spending countless hours there while homeschooling her three daughters.  Marianne likes to travel, garden, and spend time with her family.  She is particularly passionate about and volunteers with local history and animal rescue organizations.