I don’t own an e-reader so I borrowed my sister’s Kindle this week. She lent it to me specifically so that I could read ‘Nothing to Envy’ by Barbara Demick which is based on accounts of life in North Korea. Unsurprisingly, it is an extremely harrowing read. Demick cleverly interweaves the stories of six North Korean defectors with descriptions of everyday life in North Korea including working in a hospital, life in a labour camp, reactions to the death of Kim Il-Sung, how people survived during the extreme food shortages in the mid-1990s and life after defecting from North Korea.
Demick’s absorbing account of a real life dystopia is both shocking and captivating. The opening of the book is particularly striking. At the beginning of the first chapter, the reader is confronted with a satellite image of North and South Korea taken at night-time (similar to the one below). North Korea is almost entirely in darkness because electricity is so scarce. But it didn’t always used to be like this. While the Western world’s view of this highly secretive country has mostly been influenced by ‘Team America: World Police’ and the images of millions of North Koreans sobbing after the death of their Dear Leader, many people may not be aware of the fact that North Korea was relatively prosperous until the 1990s when famine killed millions. Many older North Koreans do in fact remember times when they did have enough to eat.
I enjoyed using a Kindle for the first time but having read about a country where even today the economic disparity between North and South Korea is four times greater than between West and East Germany during the Cold War, the e-reader vs Real Book debate seems extremely shallow. The format in which you read this book is irrelevant. Just read it.