Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick examines what life is like under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—North Korea.

Her book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—through the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.

Event: Barbara Demick will be speaking and signing books
Thursday, January 7, at 6:00 pm
Asia Society
725 Park Avenue
More information here.


Barbara Demick

Comments [19]

Sye Suikam

I am a Hong Kong-born ethnic Chinese. My name is Sui Kam. I travel to a lot of countries during free time. I have learning Korean for 3 years. I traveled to North Korea in mid-August 2009 and I also traveled to South Korea in 2002. These two countries are totally different in all aspects except the fact that the citizens of North and South Koreas have exactly the same skin color. Two brothers of the same father - called the Choson people - fight with and hate each other since 1950-1953. When I was traveling to North Korea, I was shocked to see that there was NO garbage and NO garbage bin everywhere!! Every person wore the same "worker uniform" in khaki. I felt as if I were going back to the FROZEN historic picture of China in the 1950s - 1960s, which my parents grew up in China during that period. My parents immediately understood what and how I described about North Korea when I was trying to tell them my travel experience there. Because China keeps good and normal diplomatic relations with North Korea, we Chinese of Hong Kong, unlike the White Americans and the Japanese, are treated politely and trusted by the North Korean government. All foreign tourists are supposed to visit the state-designated sight-seeing spots and visiting other places is not politically permitted without prior approval. On the way to visiting all spots, we had been informed by the Chinese tour guide of Hong Kong that a personnel appointed by the State Political Bureau followed me and my tour-mates everyday, so we did not feel annoyed and threatened. Because of all the shocking scenes that I saw in North Korea, I started thinking: there are advantages and disadvantages in capitalism and there are advantages and disadvantages in communism and socialism. So far, I don't find any PERFECT society on the Earth since the beginning of the human history. I don't believe either type of them in this secular world. That is all for my post-travel sharing. I hope you and readers will not feel annoyed.

Aug. 16 2011 10:13 AM
gaetano catelli from downtown manhattan

excellent segment, Lenny.

@Matt from NYC: you're a real genius.

Jan. 07 2010 10:29 PM
hjs from 11211

totalitarianism clearly does not work but socialism seems to work for scandinavia (and western europe isn't laissez faire for that matter)

Jan. 07 2010 12:47 PM

The system will definitely collapse! But China will be need to act along with the US.

Jan. 07 2010 12:41 PM

Barbara they are called members of Djoson Rodon Dang! Korean workers party!

Jan. 07 2010 12:38 PM
chris from manhattan

regarding the modern vs. not so modern educations students might receive in north korea, particularly in medicine, i wonder if the author is aware of the reasonably significant number of north korean students who, right up to 1989, were study abroad students in relatively modernized countries (at least as far as academics goes) such as the soviet union and the former east germany, and who later took up positions teaching at north korean universities themselves. in many cases, students were sent abroad for this expressed purpose - to gain a modern education that would be passed on to future generations. this was, of course, 20 years ago, so the level of 'modern' in describing any education passed on to young north koreans today is of course relative - but still would be far beyond third world levels.

Jan. 07 2010 12:37 PM

I have no data but it is worth checking on South korean website.

Jan. 07 2010 12:36 PM

North Korea is a heavy user of coal.

Jan. 07 2010 12:35 PM
William from Manhattan

Are there any data on North Korea's carbon emissions?

Jan. 07 2010 12:33 PM

Thanks, hjs from 11211. That picture speaks volumes!

Jan. 07 2010 12:31 PM

You are welcome Phyllis!

I still could not complete the book I started in French, still working on it.

Jan. 07 2010 12:31 PM
hjs from 11211 Satellites uncover North Korea (playgrounds for the elite)

Jan. 07 2010 12:30 PM
Matt from NYC

You dont have to go far back in American history to find examples of Americans buying government reports wholesale, how many people bought the story of weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda in Bagdad etc.

Jan. 07 2010 12:29 PM

Thanks so much aliou for the link. How fascinating!

Jan. 07 2010 12:29 PM

Here a co-opt article about my life in North Korea.
Memories of an African Student Forced to Study in North Korea During the 1980s.

Jan. 07 2010 12:23 PM

I am a former student of North Korean university in the 80s. I can relate to some of the stories.

Jan. 07 2010 12:18 PM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Communism never worked for one single day. Even on the kibbutz in Israel, it worked only for a few decades because people were willing to sacrifice their identity, ego, normal desires, everything in order to try to create a socialist Jewish state. But ultimately even the kibbutzim had to be bailed out the government and were forced to sell off many assets.
The only thing Communism was good at developing were armaments: missiles, tanks, planes, and all of that, but mostly in large quantities and not necessarily first rate in quality. Adequate but shoddy, which was also true for most of the consumer goods that were produced -EXCEPT for the elite. The elite always got the best the world had to offer. Everyone else was pretty much a slave. IN North Korea its more stark because they no long have a USSR or Communist China to support them as in the past.

Jan. 07 2010 12:17 PM
hjs from 11211

asia at night

Jan. 07 2010 12:13 PM
Steve from Baldwin

I'm halfway through the book. I highly recommend it. What I have found most striking is how little the people encountered authority day-to-day. There was such a threat of punishment that everybody was extremely obedient. North Korea makes the USSR police state look like amateurs. The USSR had a lot of disobedience, black market, corruption, etc.

Jan. 07 2010 09:47 AM

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