Barbara Demick's book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
, attempts the nearly impossible task of introducing and immersing readers to an utterly foreign and inaccessible world. Demick's recounting of the stories of six North Korean defectors seems designed to emphasize the regular aspects of their lives rather than the incomprehensible - the concerns of life that Americans and North Korean citizens share. Many times Demick is successful in drawing her reader into the forbidden world of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), but some tales are so jarring that one has to fight against disbelief and shock to stay connected to the characters. This is the kind of book that is riveting one moment and revolting the next: a fitting description, perhaps, for the country it explores.
Six North Koreans' stories are intermingled to create Demick's...
Beyond the Book
A Brief History of North Korea
Korea's earliest known history begins around the 4th century B.C. Korea developed into several regions based around walled communities that acted somewhat like states. China controlled some southern parts of Korea, but in the 7th century A.D., one of the states, Silla, was able to drive China out of Korea's borders. As a result, Korea was a single kingdom ruled from within by succeeding dynasties until the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05).
In 1905, Japan began to occupy Korea and later claimed the country as part of its own. Japan's occupation of Korea caused the formation of many political and resistance groups, including the Korean Communist Party. Some Koreans also helped the Manchu region of China to fight...