Monday, December 19, 2011

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

When I woke up this morning and saw that Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean dictator had died, I was thankful that I had read Nothing to Envy a few months ago.  I immediately understood why the dollar had risen and other currencies had fallen due to fears of instability in the region.  I also realized that Kim’s death was entirely different than Muammar Gaddafi’s in Libya where changes engendered by the Arab spring uprisings with their “Ding dong, the witch is dead” aura were brought about primarily because young people there knew about the rest of the world and they wanted a piece of it.  If you look at satellite photos of the region at night you’ll see an enormous black hole – it’s North Korea, land of no electricity.  Nothing to Envy portrays this country where citizens who rarely have access to cell phones or satellite news worship Kim because his version of the facts is all they know.  That any single person could have such a hold on a country seems unfathomable until you read Nothing to Envy.  There you’ll learn of a country where malnourished school children praise Kim in songs asserting that they “have nothing to envy in this world.”

This is a quick post as I simply want those looking for last minute gifts to consider this book for anyone who wants to know more about the world and to make sure you read it soon yourself.   On my annual list I noted that Nothing to Envy depicts the complexities of life in North Korea.  Told through the stories of six North Koreans, it conveys unimaginable brutality. That most of North Korea spent the nineties literally in the dark without electricity, food, or medical care is sad but even sadder is that they were so brainwashed that they could watch children die of starvation and still believe what their government told them because they assumed that things were worse elsewhere. Within a four-year period North Korea’s entire frog population died because so many were killed as there was no other food.  The resilience of the profiled six is uplifting so the book is not a depressing read.

That we know so little about a country that has the potential to do so much harm to our world is disheartening.   That Barbara Demick was able to reach behind the curtain to expose it and make it personal is our gain. Nothing to Envy was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Summing it Up:  Read this to understand North Korea and why its volatility is a threat to the world. Suggest it for your book club and get ready for an enlightening discussion.

Rating: 5 stars    Category: Non-Fiction, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication date: December 29, 2009

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