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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea | [Barbara Demick]

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Paul Krasner 04-07-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Consequences of totalitarianism"

    If you want to know what happens when a dictator controls a country, read this book. People in North Korea were dying on the streets from hunger and were reduced to eating boiled weeds.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tessa the cat Los Angeles, CA 04-29-10
    Tessa the cat Los Angeles, CA 04-29-10 Member Since 2009
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    "More fantastic than science fiction"

    I enjoyed this book on tape so much that I could not wait to return to North Korea in my mind. It is a totally wacky place, better than any fantasy or science fiction. This is my favorite book on tape since signing up with Audible. You might think, "Do I really want to listen to nine hours of depressing stories about North Korea?" Yes, you do, and it's not depressing, it's amazing. Sometimes it's really quite funny. Also, it's a dire warning for those who might think increased government involvement in our lives is a good thing. I only wish this book was longer.

    21 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julie Los Angeles, CA, USA 02-21-10
    Julie Los Angeles, CA, USA 02-21-10
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    "A must-read for understanding North Korea"

    I came away from this book with a greater understanding of North Korea and a deep emotional attachment to the real people interviewed after hearing about their lives in an oppressive regime. The author gives vivid descriptions - often to the finest, most poignant detail - of barren lives and the courageous people who dared to leave. She follows a few separate people from their lives in North Korea through their defection and on to their new lives in South Korea. Truly amazing journalism and highly recommended for anyone who is curious about what goes on in the last communist dictatorship on the planet.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Cincinnati, OH, USA 02-08-10
    Michael Cincinnati, OH, USA 02-08-10
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    "Simply amazing"

    Truly an amazing piece of work. The author does a wonderful job of taking us on the journey of the lives of ordinary North Koreans. I found myself unable to shut off my ipod because I felt so connected to the people in the book.
    Please some one make this into a film.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 04-08-10
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 04-08-10 Member Since 2005
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    "I don't often give five stars"

    but this is a real breakthrough book on conditions in North Korea. Demick has done a terrific job of creating a gripping narrative, based upon her extensive interviews with the defectors, including transitions between stories - one person arrives, fresh out of the Yalu River border, at a house in China, sees a bowl of rice and meat just sitting there on the doorstep, thinks to herself, "That's more food than I've had at any meal back home in many years!", and then realizes it means there's a potentially fierce dog nearby ... fade to next story.

    Karen White's audio narration is especially noteworthy - obvious that she made an extra effort to pronounce Korean words correctly.

    Highly recommended!

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 12-17-13
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 12-17-13 Member Since 2005

    mcubed33

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    "Very Worthwhile!"

    Hard to fathom that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the de facto economic transformation of China that there still exists in North Korea an extreme Stalinist-model dictatorship. Not quite Stalinist of course, since the North Korean regime seems to follow a “royalist” model, with the Supreme Leader passing the baton to a son as successor. This book shows in a wealth of everyday detail and very engaging personal stories exactly how terrible such a regime makes life for ordinary people who are unfortunate enough to live there. The author is skilled enough that we not only learn the facts about life in everyday North Korea, but also identify with the characters whose stories she presents. In that respect the book reads like a novel and not just a news article. Very informative and worthwhile.

    My only quibble about the book is the quality of the narration. While the narrator is lively enough and has a pleasing enough voice, on many occasions her reading was not in proper context. That is, she accented the wrong phrase or failed to accent the right phrase in a sentence, or failed to make a clear transition through a pause or other means from one thought to the next. Suggest she do her homework a bit more thoroughly next time.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dennis Mazama, WA, United States 08-22-13
    Dennis Mazama, WA, United States 08-22-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Amazing journey inside"

    This book is extremely well done, it follows the paths, from early life until escape from one of the hardest countries to escape from, or death in some instances, of people who lived the horror that is North Korea. This is not just a story revolving around hardship and privation, it is a peek into the society, a sick and twisted world of leftists dreams and control and the tortured world it creates. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly, it is important on many levels and answers the question of 'what do those who live inside that country think?'. If you think you would not be interested in this book because it would not be relevant to you think again, the echo of what you read in this book will come back to you at interesting times in your own life, especially if you pay attention to current events.
    Highly recommended

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Fairbanks, AK, United States 03-14-13
    Ryan Fairbanks, AK, United States 03-14-13 Member Since 2012

    I am the most amazing version of myself that I have ever met.

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    "Orwell was prophetic"
    Any additional comments?

    George Orwell's "1984" could easily pass for a recent history of North Korea.

    One often hears about North Korea and the incessant demands its fiery leaders make upon the rest of the world, but rarely do we get to glimpse inside the lives of those who suffer under their iron fist. "Nothing to Envy" provides us just that.

    I expected the book to be different, but it was just right. It follows the lives of a few North Korean citizens, and provides insight into their struggles and daily lives. Many of these people eventually fled to South Korea, and the difference in the present and former lives is striking!

    I highly recommend this book to anyone, not only will it give you a sense of appreciation for all of the freedoms you enjoy, but it will also provide a sad look into the lives of those who do not have those freedoms. It is a great mix of story and fact that anyone will appreciate.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 03-05-13
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 03-05-13 Member Since 2002
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    "Human perspective on a shadowy topic"

    This book offers an intimate glimpse at what life is actually like in North Korea, told firsthand by North Koreans who managed to escape to the south. Beyond the appalling devastation, there is some really interesting imagery in these stories, due to the unique conditions of a country trapped in a time capsule.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 04-23-11
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 04-23-11 Member Since 2003

    Audible Member Since 2003

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    "Surprisingly Wonderful Book"

    One sure sign of a great book is that after you put it down you think about it and cannot wait to get back to it. This was my experience of Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea."
    It is almost impossible to imagine living in a place where the "Thought Police" described in George Orwell's 1984 abound, where one cannot so much as whisper a phrase of anything less than praise and gratitude for the most repressive regime in the world - but this place exists. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a place shut off from the rest of the world, with virtually no telephone service, mail or internet to the outside, where it is a serious crime to own a radio or television tuned to anything but government-run programming; a place where the community standards police inspect your home to ensure that you keep a picture of Kim Il Sung on the wall or your home and that it is clean and dust-free. This is a country where private enterprise is forbidden, while people are starving to death. Electricity runs only a few hours per week for most people.
    Compiled from interviews from defectors this book reads like a novel, detailing "ordinary" lives that are anything but ordinary. For no matter where on earth a person may live, he or she is still a human being with basic needs and desires. We all need to eat, to learn, to grow, to love.
    "Nothing to Envy" is a wonderfully written expose' on North Korea as experienced by it's "ordinary" citizens. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
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