Recommended Book: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is a deeply personal view into the dystopian, Orwellian nation state that is North Korea. Demick follows the lives of a half dozen families who defected from North Korea. Each story unfolds while revealing details of what day to day life is like. Most of the narration is third-person omniscient, as if you are hearing the internal reactions and thoughts of fictional characters – but these are real people with real stories. This can seem a little odd at times – the author had to use some creative license in filling in some intimate details from her numerous interviews with these folks years after the events. But the stories are compelling, disturbing, and at times nearly incredible. Somehow, this state refuses to fail, and people grow up without enough food, no individual freedom of thought, no real opportunities to be human – unless they accidentally or purposefully cross a river into China, dodging border patrols and risking imprisonment or execution. Then, if they are lucky enough to end up in South Korea, they struggle with missing their families and homeland as strangers in an even stranger land.

I listened to this as an audio book from Audible. At first, the reader’s voice and style was a bit annoying, but I was soon immersed in the stories.

(cross-posted from my LinkedIn Reading List)

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