Nothing to Envy



Baltimore, MD
United States
Maryland US

“My reading habits this past year have been all over the map—a lot of nonfiction and fiction, mostly contemporary. I tend to choose what to read based on what I stumble upon through excerpts, National Public Radio, random finds via Kindle selections, that sort of thing. In doing so, I realized that the actual journey in finding something good to read is what I like best about reading. I came across Nothing to Envy (Spiegel & Grau, 2009) by Barbara Demick as I was randomly flipping through an old issue of the New Yorker (or was it the Paris Review—I can't remember); it contained an excerpt, which immediately caught my attention not in the least because I am Korean but also because the stories were so riveting. The book quickly became my favorite because it gives voice to so many North Koreans whose political status often takes focus. Most ‘outsiders’ have a gross curiosity about North Korea and its citizens (as seen recently in press coverage of the death of Kim Jong Il), and most Westerners assume it is a terrible place to live, which it is. But what I liked about Demick's book is that these stories show that the sadness isn't just in the suffering and deception, it's in the idea that even so, Korea is still home. It's similar to the idea that those in abusive relationships can still hold something akin to love for their abusers; it's not as simple as 'Oh, you have freedom now. Isn't that wonderful?' Demick's book showed me that there needs to be a certain respect for the fact that North Koreans aren't all just gullible lemmings, but they are bound to their homes as passionately as Americans are.”

Sylvia Lee