2010 National Book Award Finalist,
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group
ABOUT THE BOOK
A gripping, astounding view into North Korea through the lives of six ordinary citizens—-an important story that has never been told before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times.
Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press
Club’s award for human rights reporting, and awards
from the Asia Society and the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Her coverage of Sarajevo for The Philadelphia Inquirer
won the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy
Journalism Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer
Prize in international reporting. Her previous book
is Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo
to Envy website
AUDIO - All
In New Book, N. Korea Seen Through Defectors' Eyes
Barbara Demick on Life in North
The New Yorker posted by Avi Zenilman
The North Korean landscape is perfectly depicted by the black brushstrokes of Oriental painting. It is strikingly beautiful in places—from an American frame of reference, it could be said to resemble the Pacific Northwest— but somehow devoid of color. The palette has a limited run from the dark greens of the firs, junipers, and spruce to the milky gray of the granite peaks. The lush green patchwork of the rice paddies so characteristic of the Asian countryside can be seen only during a few months of the summer rainy season. The autumn brings a brief flash of foliage. The rest of the year everything is yellow and brown, the color leached away and faded.
The clutter that you see in South Korea is entirely absent. There is almost no signage, few motor vehicles. Private ownership of cars is largely illegal, not that anyone can afford them. You seldom even see tractors, only scraggly oxen dragging plows. The houses are simple, utilitarian, and monochromatic. There is little that predates the Korean War. Most of the housing stock was built in the 1960s and 1970s from cement block and limestone, doled out to people based on their job and rank. In the cities there are “pigeon coops,” one- room units in low- rise apartment buildings, while in the countryside, people typically live in single- story buildings called “harmonicas,” rows of one-room homes, stuck together like the little boxes that make up the chambers of a harmonica. Occasionally, door frames and window sashes are painted a startling turquoise, but mostly everything is whitewashed or gray.
In the futuristic dystopia imagined in 1984, George Orwell wrote of a world where the only color to be found was in the propaganda posters. Such is the case in North Korea. Images of Kim Il-sung are depicted in the vivid poster colors favored by the Socialist Realism style of painting. The Great Leader sits on a bench smiling benevolently at a group of brightly dressed children crowding around him. Rays of yellow and orange emanate from his face: He is the sun.
Red is reserved for the lettering of the ubiquitous propaganda signs. The Korean language uses a unique alphabet made up of circles and lines. The red letters leap out of the gray landscape with urgency. They march across the fields, preside over the granite cliffs of the mountains, punctuate the main roads like mileage markers, and dance on top of railroad stations and other public buildings.
LONG LIVE KIM IL-SUNG.
KIM JONG-IL, SUN OF THE 21ST CENTURY.
LET’S LIVE OUR OWN WAY.
WE WILL DO AS THE PARTY TELLS US.
WE HAVE NOTHING TO ENVY IN THE WORLD.
Excerpted from Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Demick. Excerpted by permission of Random House Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.