Friday, October 21, 2011
Review: Nothing to Envy
This book had a profound effect on me. Like many, I came to this book with little knowledge of North Korea, aside from what is on the news. And that's no accident, the country is highly secretive. This is what makes Demick's book so groundbreaking. By interviewing six defectors Demick is able to offer an unprecedented look into the lives ordinary people live in this communist dictatorship.
The stories in this book present a country where millions suffer from miserable deprivation. People are starving, reduced to eating grass and tree bark. Most of the country no longer has electricity. Pervasive malnutrition has collectively stunted the country's growth.
Meanwhile, the North Korean government offers a program of constant brainwashing, requiring constant supplication to the leadership. Detractors are sent to gulags, as are their relatives. The government practices a policy of "tainted blood," suggesting that any malcontent had tainted the blood of their family by three generations, meaning that grandparents and grandchildren are also undesirables needing eradication.
Demick's care and persistence in collecting these stories is admirable. Even more so is the courage of these North Koreans to tell their stories. Their families have faced retribution for their decision to leave. It is truly astonishing the level of isolation and brainwashing that the government has managed to accomplish. This is important reading for everyone. Such shocking human rights abuses must be made public.
Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel and Grau, 2009) ISBN: 0385523904