Sunday, November 20, 2016

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

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaNothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As far as non-fiction goes, this was an eye-opening page turner for me. Well, mostly it was. I have traveled through South Korea for business several times, and like to get out of the airport and explore a bit on my frequently long layovers. That little bit of exposure to South Korea culture really added some depth to the story for me. It is amazing that a dictatorship built on lies and exploitation lasted past one dictator, let alone out of the the 20th century. Overall this book was biased towards western culture, as to be expected by an American author, but that shouldn't overshadow the facts that create an appalling scene on their own in North Korea. The bias I noticed was subtle, and more based on word choice than anything else, but I found it annoying because the reality of North Korea is condemning on its own, and adding emphasis to it makes it seem that the reader needs to be convinced. It is like when a child who you believe to be innocent, proclaims innocence so vehemently that you start to suspect something.

While I thought that the subject matter was covered well, I was annoyed by the jumping around from story to story, often on tenuous connections. I can imagine Demick gathering all of these stories and wanting to get as many narratives into the book as possible, but at this point I feel that dropping into backstory over and over created a mess that I would have sacrificed the overall chronology for. The stories themselves would have carried the interest more than the wrap up of defector profiles did (the where-are-they-now style.)

Having noted my issues with the book, this is a solid 4 stars. If you are looking for a non-fiction book that makes you think about the world we live in today, and the power of governments, then I'd recommend this one. It is worth your time.