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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

by

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Cover

ISBN13: 9780385523905
ISBN10: 0385523904
All Product Details

 

 

Excerpt

Prologue; The Guard

 

My second day at the Saro-cheong Detention Center, I was sent to work weeding the rice fields. The task was exhausting, slogging for hours through the flooded rows of dirt, pulling at the weeds and digging down with my fingers for the grub-white roots, but at least it got my fellow inmates and me away from the prison. Even though I’d been homeless for more than two years by then, and had dealt with gangsters and corrupt police and starvation, the place terrified me. The day before, I’d seen a teenager beaten so severely I was sure he was brain-damaged, and darkness had brought the shrieks of girls being raped in the next room. The detention center had once been a school, in fact the best art school in Hoeryong, but now, like many things in the city, it was broken and wild, a place of seething chaos.

      Around noon, we marched under a hot sun back to the detention center for lunch. Not knowing the routine, I simply followed everyone else, trying not to stick out. After eating our meager portions of cornmeal, the guard, a lean teenager with an angry face, yelled to us: “It is your break time.” I watched as the other boys lay down and fell asleep, all in a matter of twenty seconds. I could tell how precious this time was by how fast they dropped to the floor. I, too, was exhausted and found a spot to lay my head.

      I fell asleep soon after and dozed among the others. After I don’t know how many minutes, I heard a voice calling in my dreams: “Up, up.” I opened my eyes. The guard was screaming at us, stomping up and down the rows of sleeping boys, threatening the slow ones with the long stick ?— ?actually the handle of a garden hoe ?— ?he held menacingly in his right hand. Everyone began scrambling to find his or her shoes that sat in a pile at the center of the room. My hands shook. I found one shoe but not the other. I was stooped over, hunting among the remaining pairs, when something struck me between the shoulder blades with great force.

      “Bastard! Why are you so slow?”

      I turned, crouched in pain. It was the guard. He’d struck me on the spine with the long stick. It hurt terribly, but I managed not to fall over. I knew that showing weakness here could mean death. I bowed to the guard, his face twisted in a bright grin, as the flesh above my spine throbbed.

      “Please, sir,” I said, “I’m looking for my shoes.”

      He raised the stick again and screamed “Bastard!” He slammed it down on my left shoulder, trying to break the collarbone. I wanted to kill him, but I thought he must have allies among the other guards and they would come for me when the sky grew dark.

      From this day on, the guard chose me as his number-one victim. I learned later that his parents had been big shots in Hoeryong but had fallen from grace for some mysterious reason. The guard had been abandoned and then sent to detention as a Kkotjebi, as all the homeless children were known, where his connections got him a job watching over the other inmates. Consumed by bitterness, he attacked people for no reason at all. And he made a special case out of me.

      I learned to put my shoes in a place where I could find them, but the guard didn’t care. Bastard was my name, and beatings were my regular fate. Sometimes he hit me with the big stick; other times he slapped my face with his open hand. I only bowed in response. But rage was building up inside me. I could feel the blood pump hot to my face when he slapped it.

      Out on the streets, I was considered a good fighter for my age. I was even feared by some. But people were treated like animals at the detention center, often brutally beaten by a dozen men at a time. No one could stand up to that.

      One day, after weeks of this treatment, I heard the guard approach me from behind.

      “Hey, bastard,” he said, almost jovially. I could feel the eagerness in his voice, the anticipation of a good slap, a release of his hatred and frustration from his skin into mine. It was almost like he craved the letting go of the dark electricity that had built up in him all morning. I could feel how he savored these moments. I had always been sensitive to others’ emotions, even my enemies’.

      But today, I couldn’t take the thought of him touching me. I spun around.

      “Why are you always picking on me?” I cried, my voice breaking. “Leave me alone, please. Leave me alone or else!” Even as I said it, I knew that I’d opened myself up to danger. But it was too late to take the words back.

      The guard’s face went still with surprise. Then it blushed dark and his eyes slitted.

      “How dare you talk back to me!” he said in a low voice.

      We began shouting at each other, the other boys gathering, wide-eyed, to watch. The team leader heard what was going on and came running over.

      “What’s happening?” he said, pushing boys aside. “What are you two yelling about?”

      Before the guard could open his mouth, I quickly spoke up. I described what had been happening under the team leader’s nose. He listened and nodded, gesturing for the furious guard to be silent. When I finished, I saw the team leader’s eyes were glinting with pleasure.

      “I don’t need to hear any more. I will do what’s fair! And that means only one thing: you two will fight it out!”

      The team leader looked very pleased with himself. He was clearly bored with his daily routine, and here was an opportunity for a little excitement.

      I knew that losing the fight would be dangerous. The guard would have total control over me, and because I had humiliated him by defying him in public, he would show no mercy. I decided I would do whatever it took to win.

      The team leader gathered all the boys together in the center of our room. I studied my opponent. He was bigger and heavier, but I knew he’d led a more privileged life while I’d been on the street. You are mentally stronger, I said to myself. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

      “OK, begin!”

      The guard and I grabbed each other by the shoulders and arms and pushed back and forth, grunting with the effort. He quickly slipped his hand away and landed a punch on my jaw, mashing the flesh against my teeth. I tasted blood and this frightened me. I shoved him back, trying to topple him over. But he was stronger than I thought. After a few minutes of furious wrestling, my left knee gave way and I rolled to the ground. The guard’s hands went to my throat as he fell on me. We rolled back and forth, punching each other and snorting for air. The minutes stretched on and on. I saw in my peripheral vision that the other team leaders had joined us. I could hear bottles of moonshine clink as they were set down on the concrete.

      After twenty minutes of wrestling and blows, my arms were slick with sweat. I was exhausted. It felt as if my arms were hanging from their sockets by thin strings. But I had more to lose, and I’d always been a stubborn fighter. I threw the guard to the ground and climbed on top of him, sitting on his heaving chest. I pinned both his hands with my left hand and started punching him in the face as he turned it this way and that, trying to evade my blows. I felt no rage anymore, no emotion at all. I was like a miner gouging out a seam of coal. There was no hatred left in me, only determination.

      Bang, I gashed his lower lip on his teeth. Again. I took a deep breath, leaned forward, and gritted my teeth. Bang. Harder. Bang. A spurt of blood drifted up, then fell to his cheek.

      “I give up!” he shouted finally. A cheer went up from some of the spectators while others blew out their breath in disgust.

      I rolled off the guard and lay on the floor, gasping.

      I’d survived yet again.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Cyndi Haupt, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by Cyndi Haupt)
I read this book wishing it wasn't true, but knowing that it is. The author really captures the horror of the lives of the people of North Korea, but without sensationalizing or dramatizing. This important book puts a human face on current (and past) news.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385523905
Author:
Demick, Barbara
Publisher:
Spiegel & Grau
Author:
Cheevers, Jack
Author:
Kim, Joseph
Author:
Talty, Stephan
Author:
Barbara Demick
Subject:
Anthropology - Cultural
Subject:
Asia - Korea
Subject:
Koreans - Korea (North) - Social conditions -
Subject:
Koreans - Korea (North) -
Subject:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Entrepreneurship
Subject:
Social Science-Ethnic Studies - Asian American Studies
Subject:
anthropology;cultural anthropology
Subject:
Business-Start Up Business
Subject:
Ethnic Studies-Asian American
Subject:
World History-Asia
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
north korea;non-fiction;history;korea;communism;politics;asia;famine;journalism;biography;totalitarianism;dictatorship;travel;defectors;current events;sociology;south korea;poverty;society;memoir;current affairs;defection;oppression;reportage;2000s;korean
Subject:
north korea;non-fiction;history;korea;communism;politics;asia;famine;journalism;biography;totalitarianism;dictatorship;travel;defectors;current events;sociology;south korea;poverty;society;memoir;current affairs;defection;oppression;reportage;2000s;korean
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20091231
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
CHAPTER-OPENING PHOTOS; MAP
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology
History and Social Science » Asia » Korea
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Asian American
History and Social Science » World History » Asia » General
History and Social Science » World History » Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea New Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$27.00 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Random House Publishing Group - English 9780385523905 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review A Day" by , "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." (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
"Synopsis" by , 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.
"Synopsis" by , An inspirational memoir chronicling the life of Joseph Kim, who not only survived and escaped the devastating famine in North Korea as an abandoned young boy, but made it to the United States and is now thriving in college here.
"Synopsis" by ,
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 ex–submarine 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.

"Synopsis" by ,
A searing story of starvation and survival in North Korea, followed by a dramatic escape, rescue by activists and Christian missionaries, and success in the United States thanks to newfound faith and courage

Inside the hidden and mysterious world of North Korea, Joseph Kim lived a young boy’s normal life until he was five. Then disaster struck: the first wave of the Great Famine, a long, terrible ordeal that killed millions, including his father, and sent others, like his mother and only sister, on desperate escape routes into China. Alone on the streets, Joseph learned to beg and steal. He had nothing but a street-hardened survival instinct. Finally, in desperation, he too crossed a frozen river to escape to China.

There a kindly Christian woman took him in, kept him hidden from the authorities, and gave him hope. Soon, through an underground network of activists, he was spirited to the American consulate, and became one of just a handful of North Koreans to be brought to the U.S. as refugees. Joseph knew no English and had never been a good student. Yet the kindness of his foster family changed his life.  He turned a new leaf, became a dedicated student, mastered English, and made it to college, where he is now thriving thanks to his faith and inner strength. Under the Same Sky is an unforgettable story of suffering and redemption.

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