Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

by Barbara Demick
4.6 232


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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 232 reviews.
MotherLodeBeth More than 1 year ago
This book literally made me cry, which is good. How one could read of North Koreans living in such horrid conditions, cutting grass and weeds to make some awful soup, because they are so hungry and not be sad or mad is beyond me. On page 112 we read of a young female doctor who is trying against all odds to help her people. 'The problem was with the food. Housewives started to pick weeds and wild grasses to add to their soups to create the illusion of vegetables. Corn was increasingly the staple again instead of rice but people were adding leaves, husks, stems, and cobs to make it go further. That was okay for adults, but it couldn't be digested by the young stomachs of children. In the hospital doctors discussed this problem among themselves, and gave the mothers what amounted to cooking advise. 'If you use grass or bark, you have to grind it very fine, then cook it a very long time so it is soft a d easy to eat.' Dr. Kim told them.' One reads how the doctors harvest herbs in the surrounding areas and try to make their own medicines and herbal treatments, because they have no other choice. Another problem one reads about is pellagra which is caused by lack of niacin in the diet and often seen in people who only eat corn. The hospitals which may have had antibiotics years ago had none now. Mothers didn't eat enough to produce breast milk so baby and toddlers died. And if they could have afforded rice they would have tried to make rice milk, but there was no rice. Think of any horrid situation a country who doesn't care about her citizens can have and this is North Korea.
PandemicSoul More than 1 year ago
I've never had a particular interest in North Korea, but I'm an avid dystopian literature fan, and because of that I was drawn to this book to read more about the parallels between George Orwell's "1984" and present-day North Korea. What I found was a truly amazing tale of a half-dozen defectors who recount their day-to-day lives in the last truly Communist enclave. Regardless of your general inclination toward this type of book, if you enjoy a good story, this book delivers. Demick makes North Korea come alive, using multiple sources to rebuild accounts of the early lives of the defectors she interviewed. Not everyone she spoke with made it into the book as central characters, but she uses pieces of her many contacts to build a full tale. For example, in the notes section of the book, she mentions how one defector's explanation of the Chongjin geography was used as she told the story of another defector. I truly had no idea the depths of suffering that North Koreans have endured. After finishing the book, I went on to YouTube to re-watch footage of mourners of Kim Jong-Il, and I had a whole new understanding of why they were behaving in that way. The truth is devastating, and this book illuminates it in a rare way. From tales of strange customs and shocking Communist rules, to amusing anecdotes of some of the first days in South Korea for defectors, you'll be totally fascinated. Highly recommended.
SpecialK007 More than 1 year ago
I'm only about a third of the way through this book and it is hard to put down. I always knew and heard of the horrors of living in North Korea, but Ms. Demick really brings the experiences alive. Great writing and journalism. She portrays the characters of the people so well and I was starting to cheer for them when some of them had the lightbulb go off about the true nature of their dictator. That they started getting the slightest flicker that something was not quite right. I had no idea that every thought, word, and action were so closely scrutinized and reported. And what really got me was how much their daily food alotments were being rationed, and even water. and the people still would not (could not) complain about their great leader. And they didn't even have any paper to write on. What a criminal dictatorship N. Korea is.
Captain_Nemo More than 1 year ago
This book was heartbreaking, intense and deeply thought provoking. Well at least it was for me. Life in North Korea seems so crushingly hard. Reading this book gave me a much greater appreciation for even the most basic things in my life. Demick did an outstanding job of shedding light on this mysterious country. I am very glad I read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read for all Americans. This book gives you insight into the power of information. By limiting access to truth & information, North Korea is able to control their people by providing a distorted picture of the outside world. Finally we have a view of what life is like inside the most controlled country in the world. It is hard to imagine a country without animals or vegetation because the people have foraged everything in an attempt to fend off starvation. Reading this book gives the current tensions a new perspective.
British-jo More than 1 year ago
I read this after reading Escape from Camp 14, for some comparison. It was an excellent choice. The fact that several of these folk featured had no intention of escaping, but couldn't believe how they'd been taken in when they did was fascinating. It was a relief to hear in the end of the book that things are changing, although sounds like it will be a painful excrutiating process before one could call it progress. These poor people, with a leader who treats them all like toys. Horrific.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Nothing to Envy as part of a book group. Everyone in the group said they probably would not have picked up the book if it hadn't been a group selection, but everyone was glad that they had read it. The author, Barbara Demick, takes an unusual approach to telling a story about life in North Korea since the Korean War. She gives a detailed account of the lives of six residents of a North Korean city, Chongjin, from the 60's and 70's through 2009. While describing how they try to cope with the deteriorating economic situation, famine, and political repression, she provides insight into the history, culture, and social norms of the people. The conditions are grim and the book reveals the incredible courage of the North Koreans. Reading this book gave me a much better understanding of the current tensions between North Korean and the U.S., South Korea, Japan and China. I highly recommend this book.
Agespeaks More than 1 year ago
Living in the United States I realize how fortunate I am that I was born in the "greatest nation on God's green earth"(Medved). Reading about a country who brain washed their citizens into thinking that they were the envy of the world as they saw eachother fall over from starvation is mind baffling in this day and age and yet it happened. This was (is) happening to citizens of the world as we are fortunate enough to have plenty to eat and drink without even thinking twice about it. Ms. Demick was very descriptive in her writing transporting me to North Korea I felt as if I saw the atrocities brought on by the communist regime with my own two eyes. This book makes me want to take action and do something to help others less fortunate.
skimmylatte More than 1 year ago
Some of the stories in this book are not for the faint-hearted. It describes the daily horrors that the people of N. Korea faced and continue to face under the regime of a resolute and fearful dictator. For anyone who desires to know more about the Koreas, they should read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Solid read from front to back. Really grabs your attention and draws you in. I think the best words to use are eye opening
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
What an amazing book! Written by a journalist living in South Korea, it follows the lives of six North Korean defectors from childhood to present day. It weaves a story of loyalty, honor and personal conviction while tossing in some rebellion and acceptance. It’s not a happy story and at parts can be hard to stomach (reality often is), but it is definitely worth reading. What I liked most about this book is that it tells the story from the point of view of the North Koreans, leaving out judgment, American politics and every preconceived notion one might have going into  the book. It is not a book designed to paint North Korea as anything but what the people involved believe it to be. The reality can be, at times, unnerving, but it is refreshing to read about North Korea without the brackets of international judgment around it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The stories ring true even though we cannot fathom starvation and degradation. Americans must understand the violations of human rights committed by Kim on the people of North Korea.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Intriguing and emotional stories punctuated with relevant and helpful historical information woven together perfectly in balance explain the history and lay out the possible future of North Korea. Definitely a must-read.
L.A.Carlson-writer More than 1 year ago
An educating, yet disturbing account of the lives of people who have escaped from North Korea. Demick has traveled to North and South Korea many times and has mixed feelings about the state of these countries. North Korea in good times can only produce 60 percent of the food it needs to feed and does not import the rest. South Korea does provide refuge for people escaping from North Korea but it's not a simple as we might imagine for them to adjust to a different lifestyle. The government of North Korea does everything in its power to suppress people and if an individual commits crimes against the government the punishment and shame stays with the family for 3 generations. In our global, progressive world it is nearly incomprehensible that the horrors of how this country treats its people continue to thrive. A few of us may wonder where God is in this mess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautiful account of the endurance of human spirit against al odds!
Ian_Mule More than 1 year ago
I love North Korea as a last vestige of the Cold War. However, after reading this book, I find it much more difficult to joke about it. Incredible read. Great, great book! I recommend it to anyone who wants a dramatic non-fiction read. Well done!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a heartbreaking book. The suffering in North Korea is unimaginable. This is a remarkable read. It gives tremendous, personal insight into the hermit kingdom.
Tiger87 More than 1 year ago
Curiosity added this book to my order. I'm so glad! The stories are interwoven and personal to a level that you cannot put this book down. Completely engrossing and enlightening!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I have ever read!
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Powerful book. Loved the writing style. If you are interested at all in North Korea I highly recommend