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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea


Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Cover

ISBN13: 9780385523912
ISBN10: 0385523912
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle finalist, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is a remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens


Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population. 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, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and 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, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.


"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.

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 6 comments:

Amber Black, June 22, 2013 (view all comments by Amber Black)
A great social study of North Korea that introduced me to a lot of the daily details of life that most of us don't know about North Korea. Most of the books on North Korea tend to be history and military related, so it's nice to read one of the (very) few that focuses on the regular people. I particularly like that Demick picked defectors to profile that had diverse backgrounds and attitudes towards North Korea. The stories she picked to tell really showed the different lifestyles and how certain decisions or connections could help or hurt you in the last remaining Communist state. While these stories have their sad points, they were also amazing feats of endurance; these people had to put in a lot of effort to survive, even if they were of higher status. I prefer nonfiction books to give both sides of the story: why would people stay in such a disadvantaged position and why would they want to leave? Demick definitely offers her take on that very question and generated a fair amount of thought after I had finished the book. Unification does not come off as the best solution in this book, nor does defecting. In fact, no realistic solution is proposed, most likely because there is no perfect solution.

Overall a marvelous piece of reporting that, despite being several years old now, still has a lot of impact and is important to read for context as North Korea continues to survive and have an impact on international affairs. Highly recommended!
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SandyPP, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by SandyPP)
What do we really know about North Korea? Next to nothing. I was so grateful to finally learn something that feels accurate.

Journalist Demick was stationed in Seoul and managed to get a visa to go to the north but found it wasn't possible to be allowed to actually talk honestly with anyone. So she came back to the south and interviewed people who had escaped. It feels balanced because among her subjects is a woman who belonged to the Communist Party and believed in the government, who hadn't even wanted to leave but was tricked by one of her children.
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from the reading room, February 18, 2012 (view all comments by from the reading room)
In the midst of our country’s current challenges and frustrations, Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea”” is a timely reminder of how immensely fortunate we are to live in an American democracy. It is a book so extraordinary, so captivating that I literally could not put it down. Little wonder that it is not only a recent National Book Award finalist, but a book club favorite as well.

Focusing on the stories of six defectors who lived in North Korea from about 1900 to 2005, Demick movingly recounts their agonized struggles to survive through the final years of Kim il Sung and the cataclysmic famine that decimated the population. It horrifies me to realize that even today, as I worry about gaining too much weight, deciding what TV program to watch, or which brand of chicken to buy, millions of North Korean citizens exist without food for body or spirit in “the world’s most repressive regime.”
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Product Details

Demick, Barbara
Spiegel & Grau
Anthropology - Cultural
Asia - Korea
Ethnic Studies - Asian American Studies
anthropology;cultural anthropology
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:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.17 x .7 in .5694 lb

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Featured Titles » General
History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology
History and Social Science » Asia » General
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History and Social Science » World History » Korea

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Product details 336 pages Spiegel & Grau - English 9780385523912 Reviews:
"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.
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