Nothing to Envy

Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Demick, Barbara

Book - 2010
Average Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Nothing to Envy
Follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years, a chaotic period that saw the rise to power of Kim Jong Il and the devastation of a famine that killed one-fifth of the population, illustrating what it means to live under the most repressive totalitarian regime today.

Publisher: New York : Spiegel & Grau, c2010
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780385523905
Branch Call Number: 306.095193 D378n 2010
Characteristics: xii, 314 p. :,ill., map ;,24 cm


From Library Staff

January: Personal stories about what life is like for average North Koreans as well as the difficulties faced by those that manage to defect. This book is harrowing and shocking, but not without hope.

A great background on the politics and history of North Korea, paired with really personal stories about life both inside North Korea and the complexities of life after defecting.

From the critics

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Mar 20, 2015
  • bark601 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A fascinating but devastating account of life in North Korea.

I heard about this from reading Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim. That was a gripping account of teaching the sons of the elite at a missionary school in North Korea.

Another good one, though totally different, is something like The Birth of Korean Cool.

Feb 26, 2015
  • savtadina rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This is an extremely powerful book. The author was the L A Times correspondent for both North and South Korea for 7 years. She only got into North Korea two times (once with the LA Symphony) and under very controlled conditions. So she found out about North Korea but meeting and interviewing people who had fled that country, especially 6 of them. Two of the 6 were extremely patriotic and had never given a though to leaving, but one started to when she saw if she stayed she would die of starvation, as many others had. As a doctor, she saw many patients who had stunted growth, reddish hair, etc. from lack of food, and she was powerless to help them.

The author paints a very powerful and caring view of the people she interviewed.

She also explains how people semi-deify the leaders of the country and, at least until the lack of pay for work and the family in the later 1990s, they felt that North Korea was the best possible place to live.

I highly recommend this book.

I had heard an interview with the author of Without You, There Is No Us, but when it was not available at the library, I found this book instead. I am glad that I did.

Oct 22, 2014
  • notthatjenn rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Hard to read because of its content, but incredibly powerful because of what you didn't know about North Korea. One of the best books I've found for describing daily life and its daily indignities in the Hermit Kingdom.

Sep 14, 2014
  • WVMLStaffPicks rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

In the 1990s, North Korea, under Kim Jong Il, collapsed into poverty, darkness and starvation. Restrictions on the foreign press meant that journalists such as Barbara Demick of the LA Times had to piece together what was going on by talking to defectors in South Korea and Japan, which is how she gathered the material for this amazing book. She provides context by giving a brief history of the region, and then traces the lives of six men and women, who experienced and witnessed unfathomable suffering while government propaganda urged the country's worker-citizens to believe that they were the envy of the world.

Sep 12, 2014

Too bad ebook only available in Adobe

Mar 29, 2014
  • prindledj rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A fantastic book. It really opens your eyes about the tragedy occurring in North Korea through in-depth interviews with compelling "everyman" subjects. I would recommend this to anyone who has a heart for global issues... the country is so isolated and so often overlooked.

Mar 13, 2014
  • 671books rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I thought this book was great. Anyone who has any interest in North Korea ought to give this book a read.

My full review is here:

Mar 05, 2014
  • petal64 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

It's a very good read. I'm the slowest reader and I flew through it.
I found myself connecting with the people that Barbara wrote about. It was a real page turner and could not put the book down, hoping that they were not caught and able to get out of North Korea. So sad and upsetting to know that people are prisoners within the country, unable to feed and clothe themselves, access medical care or earn a living.
I was happily surprised to read that South Korea go above and beyond helping defectors from the North.
Thank you David Sedaris for the book recommendation.

Mar 03, 2014
  • Madreley rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

I would recommned this book for reading if you would like to get a sense of what life is like in North Korea. Basically they have no life they must do what the govt tells them or face harsh punishment. Sadly at the presence that is what this country is headed toward. What is really interesting about the book and interviews is the realization from NK people when they finally see that they have been lied to and mislead by the gov't their entire lives.

Nov 05, 2013
  • uncommonreader rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This picture of North Korea is told through a focus on the stories of six defectors to South Korea (the only choice the author had given the closed nature of North Korean society) which may have skewed the picture somewhat of this feudal, repressive society. Nevertheless, the book provides some insight into North Korea and details the impact that the fall of Communism had on North Korea and other countries in terms of famine and other deprivations.

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