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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings


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  • Gohar
  • Issaquah, WA
  • 05-08-10

The man who wants to be GOD

The author does an excellent job telling the tales of her protagonists wrapped in the totalitarian govt. The most shocking part of the book is when you hear about the measures that this imbecile leader takes to prove that he is GOD when he is not even human.

The things that people around the world take for granted are shown as luxuries in N Korea and sometimes unachievable for a regular citizen. At times, this book can be depressing but it is very informative and educational. The history of Koreas and the past, present of N Korea is very well described in this book.

The narrator was a little annoying at first with her breathing right in the mic. But I got used to it few hours in the book. This book is just too good so I didn't realize after a while how bad the narrator was. But Audible should really audition narrators before they are hired for the job.

47 of 49 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Laura
  • Asheville, NC, United States
  • 06-05-10

An excellent listen!

I'm not sure why I downloaded Nothing to Envy in the first place, but I am certainly glad I did. This book was enthralling and endlessly interesting. I have a picture in my mind of life in North Korea that has stuck with me. The author weaves stories together in a way that is complex without being confusing. Well worth the 12 hours - I was sorry when it ended.

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • D. Flagg
  • Jacksonville, FL USA
  • 01-30-10

Fascinating Portraits

"Ordinary lives," perhaps, but not ordinary people. The description of life in North Korea during the famine years is riveting, and the individual stories are deeply touching and ultimately inspiring. If this were a work of fiction, it would be a great novel. But as always, real life is more fascinating than fiction. This is journalism at its best.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 08-31-10

Bleak, Fascinating, Heartbreaking

This story of the lives of several ordinary North Korean citizens, put together from interviews over a period of several years with defectors who made it to South Korea, gives a grim and fascinating look at what it's really like inside this isolated, almost hermetically-sealed dictatorship. Although much of it is what you'd expect from the little we can see from outside -- the cult of personality around the "Dear Leader," the bankrupt economy that pumps money into nuclear weapons and the military while the citizens starve -- you really cannot appreciate just how impoverished the people of North Korea are until you read these stories. Particularly heartbreaking is the story of the famine that killed millions in the 1990s. Every person interviewed for this book was literally watching friends and family drop dead of starvation all around them, while the government continued denying a problem and forbidding them even to grow gardens. The book covers the time period up until late 2009, when Kim Jong Il is still in power, could easily live for decades yet, and there is no telling just how much longer this regime can continue. For North Koreans, the future seems bleak no matter what.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

One of the Best Books Out There Now

I was a bit skeptic when I first chose this book to listen to but this book became one of those gems that I am glad I took a chance on. It does so many things so very right that I would simply suggest this book to anyone, literally to anyone.

Barbara Demick tells the story of like in North Korea and tell this story through interwoven true life experiences between a handfuls of individuals. The book in its entirety has a very anti-North Korea tone to it and if you are no careful you can easily be caught up into that sort of rhetoric. Keep in mind though that Barbara is simply telling things from persons who have lived and later defected from North Korea so there is some amount of distaste and bitterness from said persons. The author tries her best to not inject too much of such sentiment in her work but coming from her background as a reporter probably, she simply reported what the interviewees wish to have portrayed mostly.

All that being said even if you disagree with the tone of the book itself, it pokes enough in this direction to have you wanting to know more. It pokes at your curiosity in the right places and leaves you asking the right questions opening up this topic for discussion, driving one to actually want to do some research on this topic.

The narration suited well what was being portrayed. I do have some slight qualms with it as I thought the entire book seemed a bit over enunciated. You could hear her breathing in after every sentence it seems. Otherwise the mood and general tone was very much to my liking.

You would enjoy this book, at the time I listened to this (2013) it was current, impressively done, mixing the right amount of facts with an actual story and also highly thought provoking. One of the best books I have listened to in a while.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • norton
  • charlotte, NC, United States
  • 08-31-10

Yes Five stars

Not for the faint of heart. This book is like ice cold water pored into your warm morning bed. Like smelling salt to the nose. The inhumanity is so palpable it's like watching a holocaust film. You can only feel so deep then you go into the realm of the numb. The shameless irony of the North Korean regime feels like a kind of insanity. Like an insane class is running the country. If this were fiction it wouldn't be worth reading as it would be too fantastical. I have to recover from the first listening before listening again but listen again I must. Get a box of Kleenex and keep handy. Ironically, this may be the antidote for personal depression.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jay
  • Alexandria, VA, United States
  • 05-03-10

Amazing Insight

In such a hermetic regime as North Korea, it is nearly impossible to give a sense of what its citizens go through every day. In one sense I was just curious as to what things were like in the DPRK, and didn't care for the personal stories as much at first. But it makes the realization that their country is a bankrupt dictatorship by these characters even more powerful at the end. I don't think you would understand the forces keeping the North Koreans under tabs had you not read this story. It's a little bit like seeing a primitive culture discover technology in a first world nation. However, what makes this even more amazing is that these two peoples are from the same nation. The narrator is a good reader, but an annoying tick happens when she breathes in before each new sentence. You will soon forget about this phenomenon, but it's good to at least be aware of it.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Paul
  • Portland, OR
  • 04-07-10

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Heather
  • Bloomington, MN, United States
  • 04-08-11

Outstanding read; poor narrator

These stories simply take your breath away. Such insight into a country we know so little about; sad, dreary, shocking compelling. Read it! Drawback is how s-l-o-w-l-y the narrator reads it.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tim
  • United States
  • 09-18-10

Grandma Always Told Us

My family is from South Korea. I am the first generation from the States. My grandma was from the Korea War era and she always told us story about North Korea. This book was very interesting. I learned so much. Thank you for the good rating for making me read this book.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful