Nothing to Envy book review
Nothing to Envy book review

Nothing to envy

Comtourist visited North Korea in 2004 and saw all the highlights that the government likes to show to foreigners visiting this reclusive country. Tourists are not shown the harsh day to day live of ordinary people far away from the capital Pyongyang. American Journalist Barbara Demick interviewed almost a hundred North Koreans defectors that now live in the South. Nothing to envy gives a good insight in the everyday life of North Koreans dominated by poverty, fear and hunger.

Nothing to Envy tells the story of six North Koreans that fled the industrial city Chongjin in the North East of the country. Escaping to China is relatively easy; the Tumen River that forms the natural border between China and North Korea can be crossed at night. The main problem for defectors is to reach South Korea from China via a dangerous route trough Mongolia. The worries are usually far from over when the South is finally reached, defectors then have too live with great uncertainty about the faith of the family they left behind in the North.

North Korean children are taught that they, thanks to the great Leader and great General, have nothing to envy in the world. The North Korean state brainwashes and terrorizes their citizens in order to make them obedient followers of the Kim dynasty. The stories of the defectors make clear however that most North Koreans are privately very cynical about the leadership and only play along out of fear for repercussions. The stories paint a grim picture of the daily life where most time is spend on gathering food from wherever possible. Hundreds of people live near the Chongjin train station where they basically are waiting to die. The books also explains how the North Korean society is divided in three classes; the members of the party who have a relatively good life, the normal people who live in poverty and the outcast who are deported to work camps to be used as slave labour.

North Korean workers passing a giant billboard of Kim Il Sung near an industrial complex in the city of Chongjin

North Korean workers in the city of Chongjin

Escaping to the South is a very difficult decision for the six people that the book follows. Live in the North is almost unbearable but escaping will bring their family in great danger. All six decide to go and make it to the South. Adapting to capitalism is much harder than they fought it would be, none of the defecators actually feels at home in the South. Nothing to envy is a great record about the harsh daily life min the city of Chongjin and a must read for those who want to know what is going on inside North Korea. The book does not offer any hope however, North Koreans don’t believe the propaganda anymore but and uprise does not seem happening any time soon.