Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

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Random House Publishing Group, Dec 29, 2009 - Social Science - 336 pages
11 Reviews
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
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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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This book answered many of my unanswered questions about how North Koreans think and how they live their daily lives. A lot of attention is given to the 1990s when NK experienced the famine, and the measures the people made to survive leaves me speechless. It is a very easy read, and fueled my hunger to learn more about this nation. 

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Beautifully written depiction of North Korea from the 1970s to about 2000 through the eyes of a handful of distinct individuals.

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
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
Sweet Disorder
The Third Generation
Dedication Acknowledgments

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About the author (2009)

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.

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