Award-winning novelist Suki Kim's haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea's elite during the last six months of Kim Jong Il's reign — a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world's most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls "soldiers and slaves."
Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong Il and North Korea. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. The year is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields. Except for the 270 students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST)--a prisonlike complex where portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English. Although she's covered North Korea as a journalist for years, the short, regimented foreign press tours reveal very little of the repressive regime, and so she has chosen to live for six months under its watchful eye.
Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues--evangelical Christian missionaries who don't know that Suki doesn't share their faith. But she soon grows attached to her students, whose naivete and obedience to the regime she finds heartbreaking. Over time, she cautiously hints at the existence of a world beyond their own--at such exotic activities as skiing or surfing the Internet and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. The students in turn offer Suki tantalizing glimpses into their lives outside the university walls, sharing their anxieties about girls and their longing to see their families. Then Kim Jong Il dies, leaving the students devastated, and leading Suki to question whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.
About Suki Kim
Suki Kim was born in Seoul and moved to the United States at the age of thirteen. She is the author of the award-winning novel The Interpreter and the recipient of a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and an Open Society fellowship. She has been traveling to North Korea as a journalist since 2002, writing essays and articles for the New York Times, Harper's, and the New York Review of Books.