Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nothing to EnvyI 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.


Filed under Books

11 responses to “Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

  1. Sounds like a really interesting book for learning about North Korea, thanks for bringing it to my attention


  2. This one has just been added to my TBR list. N Korea isn’t a country we hear very much about so am looking forward to learning more about it.


  3. I really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) this book. Important for people to read.


  4. Good review. I was unaware of this book and have now added it to my Goodreads ‘to read’ list. Thanks! I found it ironic to see your review of this book right below the Hunger Games!


  5. I’ve wanted to read this book for ages, ever since someone who reads a great deal mentioned it to me over a year ago. You’ve just reminded me, so will put it on my ever-growing list.


  6. mok

    Another book added to my proverbial pile of to-be-read books 🙂 Thanks!


  7. I read this last summer on my sister’s recommendation – it blew my mind.


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