Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

"Nothing to Envy" weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea's third largest city. Two lovers, who dated secretly for a decade, feared to criticise the regime to each other. A loyal factory worker watched her husband and son die of starvation before escaping the country. In telling the stories of Chongin's residents. she has recreated the lifestyles of North Korean citizens from their interests and concerns to their culture. 4.7 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography
Format Paperback
Pages 272
RRP £14.99
Date of Publication February 2010
ISBN 978-1847080141
Publisher Granta
 

"Nothing to Envy" weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea's third largest city. Two lovers, who dated secretly for a decade, feared to criticise the regime to each other. A loyal factory worker watched her husband and son die of starvation before escaping the country. In telling the stories of Chongin's residents. she has recreated the lifestyles of North Korean citizens from their interests and concerns to their culture.

Read an extract from the book on the Telegraph's website

Reviews

The New York Times

Dwight Garner

Excellent… Ms. Demick writes especially well about the difficult lives of those who do manage to defect. Not only are they bewildered by life outside of North Korea, and have to be taught to do things like use an A.T.M., but they also live with deep shame and guilt, knowing that relatives left behind have probably been sent to prison as punishment for their escape.

26/01/2010

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The Spectator

Mark Seddon

Nothing to Envy is the first of its kind, an almost photographic description of the near impossibility of keeping a full belly and an inquiring mind during that terrible decade of slow starvation in North Korea in the 1990s. Those who still hang on to the idea that the North stands ready to implode under the weight of its own contradictions, will be disappointed, as will those who think that the country’s neighbours want it to. They don’t, because they fear the waves of desperate migrants that could be unleashed. The real shock to any reader is that the world Demick’s defectors paint is not taken from the early years of the last century, but from its final decade.

24/03/2010

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The Times

Richard Lloyd Parry

Barbara Demick’s achievement is to restore a measure of humanity to 23 million human beings. Many scholars have pored over North Korea’s atrocious history, its fearful politics, abysmal economics and blood-curdling propaganda. No writer I know has done a better job of clothing these academic concerns with the rich detail of the lives of ordinary people — explaining, simply, what it feels like to be a citizen of the cruellest, most repressive and most retrograde country in the world.

20/02/2010

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The Sunday Times

Christopher Hart

[A] terrific, often gruelling work of reportage… When Kim Il-sung died in 1994, many grief-stricken North Koreans killed themselves. They did so by throwing themselves off buildings, since the country has no sleeping pills. Beyond this black comedy, though, Demick takes us deep into real human suffering and tragedy… The slow, dreamlike onset of famine is horrifying.

21/02/2010

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The Financial Times

David Pilling

[An] exceptional book… Although there is much for the scholar and strategist in these pages, the story that emerges is above all human. Demick’s characters fall in love, plan their careers and, when times get rough during the famine of the mid-1990s, start up illegal private businesses or watch their loved ones starve to death. The people depicted, whose stories take place before information began to leak in from abroad, regard their own experiences as perfectly normal.

07/03/2010

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The New Statesman

Charlotte Middlehurst

Demick, who became the first Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Korea in 2001, weaves [these] stories, derived from interviews and conversations conducted over a number of years, into a compelling narrative. Her book is a reminder that oral history is one of our greatest resources. Its use in Nothing to Envy makes for a valuable contribution to the literature on North Korea.

11/02/2010

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The Washington Post

Stephen Kotkin

Demick chose her subjects from a single town, provincial Chongjin, far from Pyongyang, which gives the book a powerful sense of place. An industrial and mining center in the country's north, Chongjin was among the areas hardest hit by the famine, which claimed between 600,000 and 1 million lives, an unprecedented loss for an urban, literate society during peacetime. "Nothing to Envy" conveys the emotional riptides and overall disintegration of stopped factories, unpaid salaries and piled-up corpses.

28/02/2010

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The Guardian

Michael Rank

Highly readable… But defectors are, by definition, not typical: they are likely to be more disaffected, more resourceful and richer than the average citizen, so this book is hardly the definitive account of everyday life in North Korea. Yet the stories it recounts are moving and disturbing, and it surely tells us far more about real North Korean lives than a fleeting tourist visit to the Stalinist-kitsch theme park that is Pyongyang.

03/04/2010

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The Literary Review

Jonathan Mirsky

A fair, modest and informative book… The only flaw of any importance in Demick's narrative is her too frequent reliance on directly quoted discourse from many years before, which no-one could possibly remember so accurately. But most of what her informants say is repeated in indirect speech, and I found their testimonies varied and convincing.

01/02/2010

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