Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over 15 years - a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung and the unchallenged rise to power of his son, Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
Taking us into a landscape never before seen, Demick brings to life what it means to be an average Korean citizen, living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today - an Orwellian world in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, a country that is by choice not connected to the Internet, a society in which outward displays of affection are punished, and a police state that rewards informants and where an offhanded remark can send a citizen to the gulag for life. Demick's subjects - a middle-aged party loyalist and her rebellious daughter, an idealistic female doctor, an orphan, and two young lovers - all hail from the same provincial city in the farthest-flung northern reaches of the country. One by one, we witness the moments of revelation, when each realizes that they have been betrayed by the Fatherland and that their suffering is not a global condition but is uniquely theirs.
Nothing to Envy is the first book about North Korea to go deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and penetrate the mind-set of the average citizen. It is a groundbreaking and essential addition to the literature of totalitarianism.
©2010 Barbara Demick; (P)2009 Tantor
"A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea." (Publishers Weekly)
I really enjoyed this title. The author really did a good job of weaving together the story of these defectors with the politics and history of N Korea in a way that transcends the individual pieces. By the end you feel like you really care about these people, and the story is proof that sometimes truth is as compelling as fiction.
The narration was pretty jarring at first to the point where I almost returned it - but I got used to it after a half hour.
Even though I've listened to NPR stories about the severe, authoritarian North Korean government, I really had no idea about what was/is happening there. I can't imagine crying more at the death of my president than that of my spouse and/or parents. Especially if I was out eating weeds and starving to death while my government wouldn't give me rice because it had been donated by the U.S. (our flag on the bag).
I might compare Nothing to Envy to 1984 because of the way citizens had to hide their feelings about their government. I'm sure there is a better book to compare it to (fiction vs. non-fiction) but I'm not claiming to be "well-read".
The narrator, Karen White, does an excellent job of bringing these folk's lives out, without over or under doing the painfulness. I would have to say that she was the perfect choice for this book because if the person had been monotone, I would have struggled listening to the history (as I sometimes struggle with non-fiction keeping me awake).
I really hope that people will read this book, if for no other reason than to appreciate their own lives more (however, please don't think that sentence means that this book shouldn't be read for its quality all by itself--It is amazing what Demick has been able to show with her storytelling ability). The U.S. government is corrupt but at least we can still catch them at it and go after them.
That I was never bored or drawn-away from the story. I wanted to listen to every riveting detail. This book made me laugh out loud as well as shed some tears. It truly drew me in.
I enjoyed hearing how North Koreans used to live prior to the economic crisis and drought that brought famine to the country. There used to be a happy time in the country and hearing how full generations were established and trusted in their leadership brings new understanding to why they live like they do today.
This entire book is packed with interesting tidbits about the North Korean culture. It's such a different world they must live in. But one fact that humored me and stands out is how they believe women should not ride bicycles, and if they do they should sit sideways, or they could lose their virginity.
Likes books and reading/listening
If you are wondering which account of life in North Korea to read first, pick this one. Ms Demick provides a wonderful overview. She walks the reader through how North Korea ended up as a "freak show" among opressive totalitarian nations. Then she settles her lense on the lives of several individuals and their lives in North Korea. She takes us along on their journeys to South Korea. Finally we get to cehck in on them and see where life's path has taken them during the adaptation process.
My favorite kind of audible book is the kind where I can't pry myself away, not for a minute. Nothing to envy is exactly this kind of book.
If this glimpse into North Korea is not enough--does not leave you sated, and you are "hungry" for more, read "Escape from Camp 14" next. Why? the background is not as through. And perhaps because "Escape from Camp 14" made me really curious about the lives of regular folks.
I loved the stories in this book. I lived in Estonia for 2 years after the Soviet Union collapsed and was mesmerized by the stories the people told me about life in the Soviet Union. That said these stories weren't as shocking to me as they might be unacquainted with day to day stories of life in a communist country. The exception was the famine. I don't think anyone with a heart could hear about what is happening in North Korea due to lack of food and not be effected. I had a hard time putting this book down and ended up listening to it with any chance I could just to hear these stores.
the frankness of the stories
The performance was mediocre and actually annoying at first. At the beginning of the book the reader uses a very broken staccato like pattern of speech which I found distracting , especially with the breathiness. I don't know if these things were less frequently occurring as the book continued or I just habituated but about a chapter in I wasn't really paying attention to the reader because the stories were so good.
How hard is it to figure out that people don't want to listen to the narrator gulp down every breath? Extremely annoying and distracting.
I have not read the book, but this book is written such that the audio version is not lacking anything the book could provide. moreover the narrator is very good.
The rebellious daughter, you really empathize with her from the moment the character is described.
she did a great job on all of them
when the doctor discovers the bowl of rice and meat on the ground in China and slowly comes to realize that dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea
this was a great audio book! it had the right balance of history and personal stories to give you the feeling of being a member of the low class in North Korea and to begin to understand the sociopolitical & economic climate that would create and maintain such a country.
With all that's been in the news about North Korea lately, I thought it time to learn more. This book is, I think, as good of a place to start as any.
The book is about several citizens, mostly in the lower end of the sociopolitical strata. You learn that all of these people are escapees from the regime and though I believe the accounts, you do have to recognize that they represent a unique sample of the society.
That said, Barbara Demick does a great job of telling the stories without embellishing the accounts. My guess is that she realizes that they don't need any added emphasis or passionate vitriol; for most Americans, the situation under the "Dear Leader" is beyond our ability to fully comprehend.
If you ever wonder why the people of North Korea hate us so much, you will get your answer in this narrative. You will also learn, as I did, that the chances are very low that we will see another Libyan or Syrian type uprising in North Korea (we will be dealing with the most unfriendly country imaginable until we or they cease to exist). Finally, you will also learn, as the title explains, just what an ordinary life in North Korea looks like.
Karen White's reading is adequate, but not great. I don't want to tell you what bothered me about her style lest you listen for my complaint. However, if you do find yourself thinking that something about her reading bothers you, keep listening. Either she gets better, you get used to it, or the story becomes so compelling that you don't notice.
This is one of the better nonfiction books that I have listened to. It is more than just a bunch of information that we can put in our brains in the section marked "North Korea". It is a book that connects with me emotionally and makes me want to reach out and know more.
There were many compelling aspects of this story. I'd have to say, though, that I most liked that Demick was able to connect me with more than one character, which is something that I enjoy in Charles Dickens' works.
I loved the character Miran.
Yes, it was.
Pretty high, interesting and a view of life outside of my realm
Listening seemed better, reading might be dry at times
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