Specialist Recruitment and Consultancy
21st Jan 2011 | by: robsteed

My reading habit is rather varied – a mix of novels, management books and international current affairs/history. I wanted to write a few words about the most recent of the former. I like to think I know quite a lot of stuff about quite a lot of places in the world (that is what I do for a living), but along with most of the world I know very little about North Korea, so was pleased to be recommended Barbara Demick’s book “Nothing to Envy – Real Lives in North Korea”. The book follows the real life stories of 6 North Koreans (all of whom have now ‘escaped’ to South Korea). The book reads like a novel, but is really a great piece of journalism. Before I started this book I’d read Dom Joly’s Dark Tourist, which also gave some interesting (and obviously funny) insights. The real brilliance in this book is that it turns this ‘comedy’ nation into a nation of real human beings. Everyone’s heard some ridiculous tales from North Korea and Barbara Demick turned those tales into stories from real people. The book goes beyond the things that we know already know about North Korea; most people can’t access the Internet; Western books are only available to a small few at universities; during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity, etc. Nothing to Envy focuses on 6 individuals based in the 3rd largest city in North Korea, Chongin. The author has visited North Korea herself, but gets most of the content for the book from a number of interviews with the defectors now in South Korea. She manages to convey the real life issues that these people face – none of which are to do with the lack of books or internet access! The most interesting statistic that I took from the book was…

  • North Koreans who defect to South Korea get given an average annual salary to get them started. This salary (aprox $20k) is the equivalent of 20 years average salary in North Korea. They are also given lessons in South Korean life, found an apartment to rent and given a mobile phone!

…..you will find your own favourite. Unlike most books I read about specifc countries this book in no way made me want to visit North Korea. But do read the book.

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