Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Life Under Kim

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea


Granta Books 314pp £14.99

Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, has written a fair, modest and informative book about North Korea, a country little known and less understood.

Between 2001 and 2008 she visited the place nine times and was enveloped in official company throughout. Apart from Pyongyang, a kind of Potemkin village the façade of which one would have to be half-witted not to see through, she merely glimpsed other parts of the country and its people, and ‘no unauthorized conversations took place’.

What she writes is based on conversations in South Korea with a handful of North Korean defectors whose old lives in the same town in the North sound ghastly (almost unbelievably so), and worse than China during the Cultural Revolution, where one could at least strike up an

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