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What an Eye-opener!

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea - Barbara Demick

How have I been so naiive about what has been happening in North Korea all this time? Well, I'm so glad I downloaded this audiobook, because now I am very much more aware of events in this culturally isolated country. The opening statement, that Google Earth shows the country as nothing but darkness because electricity is not the norm in people's houses, was just a taster for the repression and struggles that the population has endured.

Although I originally struggled with the Korean names, after a while I began to recognise people reappearing in this non-fiction account. Every one of them endured a battle for survival that progressively got worse and worse. Their imprinted visions of North Korea gradually started to crumble, as famine and detentions in the gulag became more and more prevalent.

Although the author did manage to visit this closed country on a couple of occasions, her characters were people who had eventually managed to escape, and allowed her to interview them in the relative safety of their new homes. Their survival, however, had frequently been at the expense of other family members remaining behind, who would have been made to pay the price.

The book covers the period from the rise and subsequent death of Kim Il-sung, in 1994, through the ensuing rule of his son Kim Jong-i, who has since died (2011), but was still in power at the end of the book. This was a period of time during which 20% of the population died of starvation, but the country refused to allow outside help. The attempts that these people make to try and live some sort of normal life throughout this time, is heartbreaking.

A well told account of unbelievable deprivation and determination to survive