Earlier this years I watched the documentary A State of Mind
on Netflix. A British journalist spends time with two North Korean girls as they prepare for the Mass Games, the large spectacle that North Korea puts on each year. I found it fascinating. There were so many things I didn't know about the country. But the makers of that film had minders, and were only shown carefully edited things and were only allowed to talk to citizens who would spout the propaganda. I found myself wondering: What do the citizens of North Korea actually think? What lies underneath the carefully scripted visits of foreign journalists? If you've ever wished for a glimpse into that world, this book will take you there.
Barbara Demick spends the book tracing the lives of five North Korean defectors. We see the famine of the 1990s through there eyes, as it claims victims with no regard to status. It is impossible to read this book without an emotional reaction. It does the best job of humanizing the North Korean citizens that I have seen. It's easy to see the official propaganda, or watch citizens crying at the mention of the dear leader, and laugh at them. Nothing to Envy
allows you to empathize with those people. What would you think, if you had been raised only ever knowing this world? What would you say, if even the slightest mis-step might be reported by your neighbors to the police?
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's written in the manner of a novel, and is compulsively easy to read. I rarely stay up late to finish non-fiction, but I found myself reading the last page this morning as the sun started to appear. Highly recommended!