Book Review: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Author Barbara Demick Exposes The Horror of Daily Life in North Korea ~
Read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick and you realize that life in Orwell’s book 1984 can be found here and now, in North Korea. In this non-fiction book, Demick shows us what life is like for the average North Korean, told through the stories of six people who eventually defected to South Korea. The fear and repression in their day-to-day lives are hauntingly similar to the characters in George Orwell’s book 1984, so much so that you wonder if the North Korea’s leader Kim Il-sung used Orwell’s book as a primer for repression.The tragic difference between these two books is that the lives of the people in Demick’s book are real. The suffering they endure just to stay alive is unimaginable to the world I’ve known all my life.
These people spend every moment wondering if they’re going to be reported to the government for some minor action that could tear their lives apart. Any one of family members, friends and neighbors can report on them with devastating consequences. Even their small children are encouraged to report on parents.
Harsh living conditions are rampant. Food is scarce. One elementary teacher recounted how her classroom kept shrinking in size. She thought students were suffering a temporary illness, but in reality, she found she was losing students because they were literally starving to death.
What is so frightening about this book is that it shows how the North Korean government has managed to create a world where Big Brother is watching without the use of electronics. The government is masterful in using very same people it is trampling to death to become the reporting system, much like Stalin did in the Soviet Union. What a powerful reminder that we can be fearful of technology, but it’s the people who create the system, not the system that creates the people.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is an unforgettable read that will stay with you for a long time. Barbara Demick does riveting job of telling a harrowing story. I’ve found myself thinking of this book long after I finished reading it.