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Finalist, 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
(winner to be announced March 10th, 2011)
Winner, 2010 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction
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.
“I have adopted the book Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick for my upper-level HST 3450: The US and the Far East course. I have read the book, and believe that students will enjoy this insider's look into North Korea, by observing the lives and trials of ordinary people who are caught in their country's political difficulties and faced with the constant surveillance by a paranoid regime. North Korea, especially, is a "black box" for Americans, who have little real information about the country beyond the belligerent antics of its "Dear Leader" and military seen on the news. These poignant personal narratives of North Koreans attempting to live meaningful lives despite dealing with a regime that fails them and their families–leading some to flee to a more prosperous China and freer South Korea–show students a deeper side of the struggles of that nation's ordinary citizens that they can relate to. The story of the two lovers whose relationship was hampered by political background and educational opportunities especially struck a chord. We will read Demick's book alongside viewings of Gordon's documentaries and selections from Bruce Cumings book Korea's Place in the Sun to enhance our understanding of North Korea, while investigating some of the unresolved historical factors dating from the stalemated Korean War settlement that continue to contribute to high tensions.” –Annika A. Culver, Assistant Professor of Asian History, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
“A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea. . . . Thorough interviews recall the tremendous difficulty of daily life under the regime, as these six characters reveal the emotional and cultural turmoil that finally caused each to make the dangerous choice to leave. As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country’s descent into chaos, she skillfully recreates these captivating and moving personal journeys.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review