Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick: True story, title.

Nothing to Envy: ordinary lives in North Korea
Barbara Demick
Spiegel and Grau: New York, 2010
Nook Book copy, eISBN: 978-0-385-52961-7
Guys – I just read the best nonfiction book I’ve ever read, ever.  
I know I say that about all the books, but this one really is exceptional, so naturally I strongly think you should all read it too.   I’m a) not feeling formal today (last day of vacation) and b) feel a little inaprop being witty about things like…err humongous and egregious North Korean human rights violations, so bear with.  I strongly recommend this title to adults and older YA's who can follow a historial and political account - you'll all have trouble putting this down once you get started.
Did you guys know that Panem is a real place?  Also, Oceania? And basically any other fictional dystopian society you can name.  They all exist, in a country far, far away (unless you live in South Korea, China, Mongolia, Russia, or Japan, and then…well different story for you guys), a real country that we western interlopers call North Korea, which currently can pretty much only boast having the sexiest man alive as dictatorfor life.  So…something!  But in all seriousness, what I have learned about North Korean life from Barbara Demick’s extensively researched and meticulously recorded Nothing to Envy, I wish on nobody but really horrible people.  Because, holy guacamole – that place basically is an honest to goodness, real dystopian society. 
This book is chock full to the brim and overflowing with historical, political, and social information about what is probably one of the most secretive societies in the world (other than the poison-dart blowing tribesmen in like, Borneo and the Amazon – and in that case, I think their motives are pretty clear).  The book begins in a way that feels like an unusually gripping history lesson about Korea – before and after the split that has left it divided into North and South, and then begins to focus more on the generalities of post-war North Korean history.  While this is also interesting stuff (especially because holy gawd, they basically used 1984 as a manual and then went on to create a political religion and force everyone to be unquestioning zealots despite uh…not paying/feeding them), I was honestly the most hooked by the personal accounts that provide the detail to flesh out the known historical information.  For example, one subject tells of students at a university being asked to sign an oath of fealty in blood.  This is a regime that quite literally seems like it is begin run by petulant schoolboys.  
I spent half the book being like HOW DID SHE GET THESE PEOPLE TO TALK?  And then I realized I’m a huge idiot.  Spoiler, but not really, she talked to people who got out – and holy guacamole part seven or something, are her details detailed (even about things like clothes, bathroom habits, the education system, black market economics etc.), and the personal stories both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Sections about the famine alone are enough to make you thankful for the worst thing you’ve ever eaten.  Ultimately (spoiler again, except seriously, this is nonfiction, come on), I found this to be a story of survival, told by those who escaped.  I’m ultimately as interested in what happens next as I am in the history of what has gone on behind the closed walls since this book has been published.  I’m heartened to know that South Korea is being incredibly proactive and forward thinking about the process if reintegration happens on a mass, national scale.  They already have a program in place for defectors, and remuneration for them, but North Korea is like 50 years behind the rest of the world - if this happens rapidly, it'll be a hot mess.  While I’m not holding my breath, maybe just maybe the world’s sexiest man will take things a step further, start to crack open the gates, and let the world in to help the North Korean people a little more in the future…

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...