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 generally finish every book I download. Could not get through this one. Monotone recitation of what amounts to a laundry list of what North Koreans don't have. I tried skipping ahead to see if it would improve, but all I missed was page 2 of the shopping list.
There is a lot of good information in here about how people live in North Korea, but the stories are all anecdotal–the information gathered from people now living in South Korea. The author seems to have spent little time in North Korea herself. In order to give the stories immediacy, she adds all kinds of florid prose and descriptions that I am sure are not the words the people telling her the stories used. For instance, I'd be hard pressed to talk about a high school romance and recall that warm wind ruffled my hair, leaves blew around my feet, yet she has her source, a middle-aged woman, recount this level of detail. As does everyone. No one is ever scared...they lay huddled beneath thin blankets quivering in terror. That is fine for fiction but in a non-fiction book it rings false. Ms. Demick should have done a fiction book where she could show off her writing skills instead of putting words in the mouths of "ordinary" people.
Book drags. Narration is wooden and distracting. Gasping to breathe after each sentence is a no no. I'm trying, but am not sure I can finish it.
This is a magazine article not a book. This is a horrible society....we get the picture. Oppressive regimes are what you would expect. It's sad but it's what we would anticipate.
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