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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Koreaby Barbara Demick
"Demick focused her interviews on people who came from the city of Chongjin, which enabled her to check their stories and experiences against each other....Through their interwoven personal stories, Demick shows us the lives of ordinary citizens as they navigated the ravages of the last two decades, a time of social disaster, famine, and economic collapse." Andrei Lankov, The Wilson Quarterly (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
Synopses & Reviews
A remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens.
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years — a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, 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 most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today — an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life.
Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects — average North Korean citizens — fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them.
Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance.
"A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea, in which Demick, an L.A. Times staffer and former Seoul bureau chief, draws out details of daily life that would not otherwise be known to Western eyes because of the near-complete media censorship north of the arbitrary border drawn after Japan's surrender ending WWII. As she reveals, 'ordinary' life in North Korea by the 1990s became a parade of horrors, where famine killed millions, manufacturing and trade virtually ceased, salaries went unpaid, medical care failed, and people became accustomed to stepping over dead bodies lying in the streets. Her terrifying depiction of North Korea from the night sky, where the entire area is blacked out from failure of the electrical grid, contrasts vividly with the propaganda on the ground below urging the country's worker-citizens to believe that they are the envy of the world. Thorough interviews recall the tremendous difficulty of daily life under the regime, as these six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country's descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over 15 years — a chaotic period that saw the unchallenged rise to power of Kim Jong Il and the devastation of a famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
In 1968, a small, dilapidated American spy ship set out on a dangerous mission: to pinpoint military radar stations along the coast of North Korea. Packed with advanced electronic-surveillance equipment and classified intelligence documents, the USS Pueblo was poorly armed and lacked backup by air or sea. Its crew, led by a charismatic, hard-drinking exsubmarine officer named Pete Bucher, was made up mostly of untested sailors in their teens and twenties.
On a frigid January morning while eavesdropping near the port of Wonsan, the Pueblo was challenged by a North Korean gunboat. When Bucher tried to escape, his ship was quickly surrounded by more patrol boats, shelled and machine-gunned, and forced to surrender. One American was killed and ten wounded, and Bucher and his young crew were taken prisoner by one of the worlds most aggressive and erratic totalitarian regimes.
Less than forty-eight hours before the Pueblos capture, North Korean commandos had nearly succeeded in assassinating South Koreas president in downtown Seoul. Together, the two explosive incidents pushed Cold War tensions toward a flashpoint as both North and South Korea girded for war—with fifty thousand American soldiers caught between them. President Lyndon Johnson rushed U.S. combat ships and aircraft to reinforce South Korea, while secretly trying to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Act of War tells the riveting saga of Bucher and his men as they struggled to survive merciless torture and horrendous living conditions in North Korean prisons. Based on extensive interviews and numerous government documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, this book also reveals new details of Johnsons high-risk gambit to prevent war from erupting on the Korean peninsula while his negotiators desperately tried to save the sailors from possible execution. A dramatic tale of human endurance against the backdrop of an international diplomatic poker game, Act of War offers lessons on the perils of covert intelligence operations as America finds itself confronting a host of twenty-first-century enemies.
About the Author
Barbara Demick is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club's award for human rights reporting as well as awards from the Asia Society and the American Academy of Diplomacy. Her coverage of Sarajevo for The Philadelphia Inquirer won the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting. Her previous book is Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.
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