Barbara Demick on North Korea

As you probably know, non-fiction is not my best subject. It works for me only when I can find the story in it. That’s why I’m raving about Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.

DemickNorth Korea? Heavy lifting, right? Well, yes with a big “but.” In an extraordinary piece of reporting (right up there with Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity) Demick takes us inside the lives of six ordinary North Koreans before and after defection.

We’ve all read the news stories about the repressive totalitarian regime, the starvation, the disillusionment and hopelessness. Demick brings it alive and we care desperately about these people. We root for them. It’s not an exaggeration to say it reads like a suspense story.

When I told people I was reading a book about North Korea, let’s just say the response was tepid at best. Trust me, there’s a reason. This book tells you more about the twisted psychology of a brutal dictatorship and the tenacity of the human spirit than any I can remember.

I’ll spare you any analogy with the worst tendencies of our current administration in regard to manipulation of the media, outright lies, the cult of personality (and the list goes on). Just read this book, OK?