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 listen to approximately 40 hours of audio books a month. I love audio books.
This was a well written book depicting the lives of average North Koreans. These people have truly led incredible yet horrific lives. The North Korean regime is evil on a level that's hardly conceivable to the average North American. I enjoyed this listen very much and agree whole heartedly with the title. I wish with all my heart that better things are to come and soon to the North Korean people.
I was recommended this book by a friend and I have recommended it to many of my friends and family already. I also want my children (who are teens) to listen to it. The book provides a unique opportunity to "experience" vicariously (through the lives of the people who were lucky to escape the country) what live in North Korea is. How people can be brainwashed and what a dictatorial regime can achieve in a little bit more than half a century. After reading the book I watched a number of YouTube videos of the people who were able to escape from the country. Their descriptions and the books gave me (I think) a good picture of what is happening there... It also made me appreciate how much in our lives doesn't depend on us. What if I was born in North Korea - how much freedom to shape my life would I have had? I felt lucky not to be born there, yet I often felt at awe by the people who were able to realize that the way they were forced to live was a lie, that things were NOT going right and it was not there fault... Being born in the Soviet Union, I could make a lot of parallels with what I heard in the book and I what I have experienced. I, however, felt lucky to experience the fall of the Soviet Union and I hope the people in North Korea will live to experience the fall of their regime.
I also think the idea of the book is very interesting as it gives us a very different prospective from the book if it was just written by a visitor to the country.
I am not sure I can say who my favourite character was... Probably the author who was meeting all these people and tried very hard to understand what they went through.
Her narration is excellent. I somehow imagined her to be the author, the person who interviewed the people... I like the narration very much. I listen to the book in a few days - it was very engaging. I also felt that she felt compassion for the characters in the book. She was a part of the story.
I grew up in the Soviet Union and this made me reading the book even more interesting. I am not sure I picked up one tidbit, but I was able to look at these people and see myself in many of the stories... We were like them and somehow people in the former USSR were able to resist this brainwashing. I hope their regime will be toppled and South and North Korea will reunite (although I am very concerned about the process)...
I just loved the book and would like to express my thanks to the author and to the people who produced this wonderful audiobook. A great read.
The story is bleak, heart wrenching and totally captivating. There is a great mix of detail on the national and personal scale that brings this story to life. I was so engrossed that I would find myself shivering and hungry at the end of every section.
I should have said it resembles tea.
The stories of the ordinary people who had been brainwashed into believing they had "nothing to envy" were very touching. But also very sad. I very rarely read non-fiction, but this book was recommended by a friend and I would recommend it to others looking to learn more about the lives in North Korea. N. Korea generally only makes headlines when its leaders demonstrate their military might, but the typical American knows very little about the lives of ordinary citizens. It was shocking to learn of the famine and plight of the people. This book brought their daily lives into view in a touching way. I hope the author continues to follow the lives of her subjects and possibly even publishes another book. It would be very interesting to know if / how things have changed in the country since the demise of the Son - Kim Jong Il.
This book was full of information on North Korea that was totally new to me. It presented the many aspects of life there through the stories of citizens who had defected. These subjects were from varied backgrounds, so it felt as if the reader had a complete picture.
Most memorable were the efforts of the characters to survive in the face of extreme famine.
I have not heard her before but thought the reading was very good. I do not consider myself a particularly good judge of narration since I have just begun to listen to audiobooks.
I found it extremely interesting to learn how many North Koreans would still support their dictator regardless of their harsh living conditions.
This narrator breathed into the microphone whenever she had to take a breath mid-sentence. Almost like she was gasping for air. The was really annoying - got better after listening for a while, but it still bugged me throughout the book.
She also seemed to be trying to put on a bit of an Asian accent that comes across as robotic to me. Again, I got used to it over time, but quite odd.
The story itself is intensely interesting, so it was not difficult to keep listening even with the weird narration.
I almost wish that I had read it instead of listening to it because I think I may have enjoyed it more.
Revealing, Courageous, Warning.
The way that the individuals involved managed to defect, and how they had to live prior to that defection.
A very good narration. She read it as if she were the one that wrote the book. For a minute there, I thought it was the auther that was reading the book.
The Great Deception.
This should be required reading for All Americans to remind them of the freedoms that we continue to have in this country in spite of the current administration.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
Barbara Demick, a Los Angeles Times journalist, has painted a harrowing picture of what life has been like in North Korea since the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic in 1948. Her narrative is based on interviews with several defectors from Chongjin, North Korea who told her their life stories and related the huge change in quality of life they experienced following Kim Il-sung's death in 1994. Up until then, everyone at least had a roof over their heads and sufficient food, but the famines of the 90s made what had been difficult living until then seem like ideal times in a country where food, electricity and housing are now considered luxuries even for the well-educated. This novel was published in 2009, prior to Kim Jong-il's death in December 2011, so of particular interest to me was the description of how the North Korean people reacted to the passing of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994, who had been considered as a god, due in no small part to the propaganda which was and still is all-pervasive. It was reported that the recent images of grieving North Koreans seen in the world's media had been staged, and Demick's descriptions of how people (over)reacted to Kim Il-sung's death do support this theory. That the North Koreans should so thoroughly grieve a man who's corruption has only brought them worsening inhumane living conditions show the extent of the oppression of the regime on it's people. All the same, Korean children continue to be taught a song that says they have "nothing to envy" the corrupt Western world, something which they wholeheartedly believe even into adulthood, so shielded are they from reality. Fascinating, and of course, very troubling reading which helps us uncover a bit of the mystery surrounding that part of the world.
The narrator does a good enough job, but I found the strong intake of breath with every sentence very distracting at first and wondered how I'd manage to focus on the narrative. It says a lot about Demick's abilities as a reporter that I was eventually able to block it out.
Fascinating look into one of the darkest corners of the world. "Truth is stranger than fiction" - truer more so here than any where else. Demick is a good writer. I would have appreciated a more dramatic conclusion - something more poignant that would stick with the reader. But the harrowing story in its entirety is enough to leave a significant impression. I felt hungry while reading about the famine.
I am an English teacher in China and can now read and write some Chinese.I have been to 13 countries on 4 continents.I am an avid audiophile
I was shocked to discover in detail what it is like to suffer through a famine.I was amazed at the resilience of the people to bounce back from set backs and to escape the oppression of this modern day horror of a country.It was surprising to discover that provided a North Korean could escape and make it to Mongolia they could gain entrance to South Korea and a completely different life than the one of meager existence they endured in the north.The world has turned a blind eye to these people and we are all so lucky to have such simple abundance in our developed countries.It is hard to believe such a state can still be perpetuated,but I'm sure there is even worse happening in places like Africa.
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