Nothing to Envy
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Koreans who have experienced a great deal of hardship and turmoil living under one of the most notorious communist regimes. Throughout the years these North Koreans lived through the death of their great Kim Il-Sung, the rise to power of his successor Kim Jong-Il, and the horrific famine that has left many in despair. Although North Korea is constantly in the news globally it is surprising to realize little is known about the country itself. Communist dictatorship has shut out the North part of the Korean peninsula from the outside world and has ruled with an iron fist. In the years following WWII Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong Il have created a society full of censorship, propaganda, and famines. Demick is a journalist who through interviewing defector’s of North Korea can shed light on communism and the many human rights violations that still ensues in North Korea. She works for the Los Angeles Times and moved to South Korea in order to report on the happenings between both North and South Korea. Although no contact could be made with North Koreans, especially for a foreigner, Demick was able to hear stories from defectors over the years. The real face of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea began to surface with the descriptions given by defectors now living in South Korea.
North Korea still to this day blanketed from the western world and its capitalist ways. All media from the outside world is censored and manipulated in order to brainwash North Koreans into thinking they live in a prosperous nation unlike the enemies, South Korea and the U.S. Even as children, communism and socialism is entrenched in their minds. Kim Il-Sung was and still is, revered as their grand marshal and Father. Although, living conditions rivaled that of 3rd world countries, citizens were fed propaganda telling them to endure and march on. There were promises of rice and other sources of food, but many people were left to starve. In order to receive any type of food ration one must work and if shifts were missed they were to go hungry. A salary wasn’t expected for most workers especially after the electricity and power shortages started. You were expected to work and in turn were assured food rations whenever they would start up again. Living in fear of imprisonment or even death kept citizens quiet and without complaint. North Koreans were to believe in their leaders and their socialist ideals. Ideological classes were mandatory and were meant to sustain ones loyalty to the regime. Years of oppressive rule and starvation led people to question the real reasons they were being treated this way if they were living in such a powerful country. Questioning the regime and its rules can bring about serious repercussions. Nobody was to be trusted and neighbors were pitted against each other. The Imimban, people part of neighborhoods who reported to authorities, were always around and listening for non-believers. Non- believers would be the ones who did not truly follow their Grand Marshal and anyone who would criticize the regime. Demick reveals what is meant to live under one the most cruel totalitarian regimes in history, where government has total power, censorship is rampant, displays of affection are illegal and any stark aside can mean being sent to the gulag for life.
The author spotlights people who originated from Chongjin, one of the largest cities in North Korea and where people were more affected by the food shortage in the 1990’s. The city is closer to the Chinese border and far from the bustling city of Pyongyang. Pyongyang was where universities resided and where the elite would go to become educated. The author begins with Mi-ran, whom she meets as a woman in her thirties. Mi-ran had defected with her mother, younger sister and older brother. Left behind were her two sisters, who were loyal to the...
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