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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea [Hardcover]

Barbara Demick
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 29 2009
A National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle finalist, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy is a remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens
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.

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea + Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
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“The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Los Angeles Times correspondent Barbara Demick’s Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea….Elegantly structured and written, Nothing To Envy is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.”–Slate

“Excellent… lovely work of narrative nonfiction….a book that offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”–New York Times

“A deeply moving book.”– Wall Street Journal
“Superbly reported account of life in North Korea’’– Bloomberg
“There’s a simple way to determine how well a journalist has reported a story, internalized the details, seized control of the narrative and produced good work. When you read the result, you forget the journalist is there. Barbara Demick, the Los Angeles Times’ Beijing bureau chief, has aced that test in “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” a clear-eyed and deeply reported look at one of the world’s most dismal places.’’– Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The ring of authority as well as the suspense of a novel.’’– Washington Times
“Excellent new book is one of only a few that have made full use of the testimony of North Korean refugees and defectors. A delightful, easy-to-read work of literary nonfiction, it humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad that North Koreans are often compared to robots… The tale of the star-crossed lovers, Jun-sang and Mi-ran, is so charming as to have inspired reports that Hollywood might be interested.”– San Francisco Chronicle
“In a stunning work of investigation, Barbara Demick removes North Korea’s mask to reveal what lies beneath its media censorship and repressive dictatorship.”–Daily Beast
“In spite of the strict restrictions on foreign press, awardwinning journalist Demick caught telling glimpses of just how surreal and mournful life is in North Korea… Strongly written and gracefully structured, Demick’s potent blend of personal narratives and piercing journalism vividly and evocatively portrays courageous individuals and a tyrannized state.”– Booklist
“A fascinating and deeply personal look at the lives of six defectors from the repressive totalitarian regime of the Republic of North Korea… As Demick weaves their stories together with the hidden history of the country’s descent into chaos, she skillfully re-creates these captivating and moving personal journeys.”– Publishers Weekly
“These are the stories you’ll never hear from North Korea’s state news agency.”– New York Post
“At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology. Demick… takes us inside the minds of her subjects, rendering them as complex, often compelling characters – not the brainwashed parodies we see marching in unison in TV reports.”– Philadelphia Inquirer
“The last time I read a book with something truly harrowing or pitiful or sad on every page it was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and those characters had the good fortune to not be real.”– St. Louis Magazine

About the Author

Barbara Demick is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club's award for human rights reporting as well as awards from the Asia Society and the American Academy of Diplomacy. Her coverage of Sarajevo for The Philadelphia Inquirer won the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting. Her previous book is Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Aug. 31 2010
I read it in one day and could not put it down. What a great storyteller. It could have been dry like some other books I have read about North Korea but she made all these people come alive and I found myself rooting for these defectors and I do hope that they found happiness in South Korea or elsewhere. I'm only sorry that I read it so fast rather than a little a day to make it last!
Normand Shearer, Waterloo, Québec, Canada
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent July 28 2013
Excellent book; I read it together with The Orphan Master's Son (novel), and the two of these paint a pretty awful picture of NK.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read June 19 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very thought provoking as North Korea is not a place that one hears about often. Ms. Demick portrays the lives of several people in-depth and very human. It is hard to believe the lengths to which the North Korean government tyrannizes its people. Eye-opening to say the least.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why aren't we helping them?! April 8 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I wish we could help them somehow! A VERY interesting read - and currently so relevant (as they point their weapons in our direction...) The author introduces us to several families and we get to know their struggles well. Most shocking: these events occurred while I was growing up safe and snug in Canada and worrying about hairstyles and home decor! The author cleverly weaves their stories seamlessly with the politics of the country and of the rest of the world in recent history - often jolting me to awareness with such recent dates that I only associated with things such as college in the 90's, my first job - all my glorious freedom to worry about stupid things.

At times the book reads like a spy thriller full of danger and betrayal; At other times, like a tragic romance novel. The many details about everyday life and human ingenuity give light to shocking insight into human behavior (read "Life of Pi" before we judge the survival instinct), social structure, abusive government control, and systemic abuse. Difficult to read at times, but SO rewarding (a great book to toss at any discontented teenager for a quick lesson in gratitude for what we have and what we have the responsibility to protect). Makes me want to re-read V. Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning".

And by the way: is anybody going to do anything about this? I thought we cared about human rights...I guess it's too bad there isn't any oil in North Korea or we'd have beaten the Russians there and prevented this whole mess. *despondently rolling my eyes*
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Dec 12 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Was looking for something that would give me a feel for life in North Korea. This book really delivered. Very well researched, complete (I think) and objective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely nothing to envy in that country! July 9 2012
By JoJo
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Demick documents the before and after-defection lives of 6 former North Koreans who tried to exist in that unbelievably cruel and twisted regime. Some people in that country continue to believe the propoganda and many still do not know that options are indeed available to them across the barbed wire borders!
I read this after reading Escape from Camp 14; now I have a much better understanding of what has been going on in that country.
Good reads.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome June 16 2014
By Marie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Gives you info about politics, history and also the day to day lifen in North Korea. You learn a lot about the way people thought when they were still in the country.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read! Feb. 10 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book covers recent North Korean history in a factual, objective way, and personal stories by North Korean defectors at the same time. It makes the book very readable, and gives some important incites on this very different place called North Korean.
Great for anyone who wants to broaden their horizons and get more familiar with different places in the world.
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