“Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick


Between The Interview debacle and Margaret Cho’s controversial impersonation of a North Korean general at the Golden Globes, North Korea has been a popular topic in the media as of late. However, as LA Times correspondent Barbara Demick reminds readers in her book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, the North Korean people are suffering, starving and dying every day regardless of whether North Korea is trending in the American media news cycle or not.  In the book, Demick interviews six North Korean defectors all from the city of Chongjin. Unlike Pyongyang, the city of Chongjin is an industrial mining town off the eastern Coast, and one of the hardest hit by the 1996-99 famine.

Throughout the book, Demick helps tell the incredibly human life stories of these six ordinary people without any sentimentality or gloss. They think, they observe, they love, they grow hungry, they escape, and they don’t forget what they’ve seen and experienced during their time in North Korea. Some of these defectors, still haunted by their past, even have trouble adjusting to life in South Korea years after their escape. Demick commits to telling these stories with sobering realism and refuses to sensationalize their stories for easy digestion. As Demick said herself in a Reddit AMA, “the outlandish stories take away from the real tragedy– which is that millions of North Koreans perish slowly, painfully as a result of chronic malnutrition.”

Details: Paperback, $9, amazon.com