Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick
December 29, 2009,
★★★★★ Not to miss, worth re-reading
Where to start?
Thanks to Lisa for writing about this book. That same week I had finished reading Pyongyang, an interesting comic by a Canadian author, Delilse, and in my ignorance, I never thought about looking for a book on North Korea. Lisa found such a book. The reviews were very positive, my library had it in audio, and I decided to listen to it. I’m glad I did. It’s a life changing book, a learning experience, and a painful eye opener told with love and passion. I can tell the author has a relationship with North Korean people, and that’ she has learned and cared for them and their stories for years, culminating in painful and beautiful to read book.
Barbara Demick has several interviews we can watch. She speaks passionately about her book, how it came to be, how she wrote it, and her experiences interviewing defectors.
Barbara Demick interviewed many defectors and finally focused on six of them from the same region, North-West of Korea, bordering China. She found that their stories, that they were telling her separately, converged, and they were good story tellers who remembered many details. Through the years, she (who describes herself as having a photographic memory) wrote the book that tells about the life of these six people and their families over the span of 15 years. The book, through the memories of those six people and their ancestors, goes back to the war in the 1950’s, and the split, and spans all the way till 2009.
While her style is literary and it has a nice flow, I never felt she was pulling on strings, or being less than honest. Actually, I got lost in it and nothing got me out of the book and testimony of those living under the inhumane conditions, specially of the famine and starvation during the 90’s.
In case you wonder, the book is so well written that one doesn’t require any previous knowledge to follow it and learn from it. While the content is painful, there’s beauty, compassion, and a raw expression of love and sacrifice in the different people we learn about and their different ways of facing life and its dilemmas.
I am a better person because I’ve read this book. I don’t mean to sound preachy, or sentimental, but it’s a moral obligation to know about how other men, women, and children in North Korea.