It was months ago when a friend gifted me a copy of ‘Nothing To Envy’. Left awestruck by Blaine Harden’s ‘Escape From Camp 14’, I was assured that ‘Nothing To Envy’ was crucial reading for piecing together life inside North Korea. However, as dissertation deadlines beckoned, ‘Nothing To Envy’ lay unopened next to my Chinese textbooks, almost mirroring North Korea itself as it lies beside its larger neighbour, China.
Nevertheless, my degree is complete, and I have turned the last page of Barbara Demick’s incredible narration of the memories, challenges, and experiences of people beyond the DMZ. To say that Barbara Demick’s writing paints a vivid depiction would be a disservice. Each chapter envelops you in the sights, sounds, and smells of each person’s recollection, collected over many years of journalism and research. Years of history that may linger in school textbooks is retold through the eyes of those who lived it, bringing a sense of insight and emotion to events that I could have never experienced from documentaries or articles.
In the past I have read frightful reports of famine, punishment, and restrictions, but this was the first time that I had been introduced to the hopes and dreams of ordinary citizens is a less than ordinary place. While the Berlin Wall cracked Europe into East and West, North Korea remains encased between China and South Korea, even curtained to the East by the furthest extremities of Russia and the Sea of Japan. It is easy to forget that year after year, millions of thoughts go unheard. For this reason, I hugely admire Barbara Demick for shining light on a place that, as satellite pictures reveal, has only a flickering few.