Nothing to Envy is a fascinating and moving book – one of the most engrossing that I have read in a while.
Demick, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, lives in South Korea and made nine trips to North Korea between 2001 and 2008. She has interviewed approximately 100 North Korean defectors, most of whom are now living in South Korea or China. In her book, Nothing to Envy, Demick chronicles the lives of six of the North Korean defectors who have since settled in South Korea.
The book is, in part, an historical account of the life of North Korean citizens under the totalitarian rule of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. At the same time, the book is a page-turning thriller, with Demick telling the real-life survival and escape stories of each of her subjects.
I had previously wondered how this regime could effectively brainwash its entire citizenry. In reading this book, I was astonished and mortified by the endless and all-encompassing indoctrination of the North Koreans to the propaganda message, all of which would have begun at birth. Combined with the methods used by the regime to keep their people from acting out, including complete and total isolation from the outside world, would I know any differently if that message was literally all I knew or could know? It is a chilling thought.
I am at once, in awe and deeply saddened by the courage exhibited by each of the defectors – courage that is beyond what most people will ever have to uncover within them in their lifetime.