Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Front Cover
Random House Publishing Group, Dec 29, 2009 - Social Science - 336 pages
93 Reviews
An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, 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 (the father of Kim Jong-un), 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 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. She 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.

Praise for Nothing to Envy

“Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”The New York Times

“Deeply moving . . . The personal stories are related with novelistic detail.”The Wall Street Journal

“A tour de force of meticulous reporting.”The New York Review of Books

“Excellent . . . humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad.”San Francisco Chronicle

“The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Nothing to Envy. . . . Elegantly structured and written, [it] is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.”—John Delury, Slate

“At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology.”The Philadelphia Inquirer

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Carolee888 - LibraryThing

Barbara Demick interviewed about 100 North Korean defectors and made nine trips to North Korea between 2001 and 2008. Her notes in the back of the book give a glimpse of the tremendous amount of ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - gayla.bassham - LibraryThing

This book was recently shortlisted for a National Book Award, and Demick totally deserves to win for her meticulous reporting on six North Korean defectors to South Korea. I didn't realize how little ... Read full review

All 5 reviews »

Selected pages


Cover Title Page Copyright Authors Note
Holding Hands in the Dark
Tainted Blood
The True Believer
Fade to Black
Victorian Romance
Twilight of the
Two Beer Bottles for Your IV
Sweet Disorder
Frogs in the Well
The River
The Bartered Bride
Open Your Eyes Shut Your Mouth
The Promised Land
Strangers in the Homeland

The Accordion and the Blackboard
The Good Die First
Mothers of Invention
Wandering Swallows
The Third Generation
Dedication Acknowledgments

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Barbara Demick is the author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize in the U.K., and Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood. Her books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Demick is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and a contributor to The New Yorker, and was recently a press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Bibliographic information