Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nothing to Envy: ordinary lives in North Korea

by Barbara Demick

I recently heard some talk on the NPR about the way North Korea is both terrifying and ridiculous. Even an intelligence analyst who professionally studied the DPRK as a serious security threat admitted to sometimes picturing Kim Jong Il as the singing puppet from Team America: World Police. As baffling as this hermit kingdom seems to an outsider, it is barely more comprehensible to most of the people living through it's totalitarian social, political and economic regime. For them, it is also terrifying in much more immediate ways than it is for us. Nevetheless, people will find ways to survive — and ways to escape.

This book offers a glimpse into North Korea through the stories of people who have made it to freedom in the south. Life in the north is in many ways rather primitive, but the military is working on nuclear weapons while people starve. Just another humanitarian crisis in slow-motion that no one is really confronting. But what could be done, short of a military takeover? Imagining how this regime might eventually come to a peaceful end is as difficult as understanding how it could have gone on so long already.

Definitely an interesting book, well-written and informative, with emotional heft. Several other books about North Korea came out around the same time, but I haven't read any of the others and can't compare/contrast.

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