Barbara Demick does a fine job in showing how the quality of life in North Korea (NK) deteriorated under the rule of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il. She does so by following the lives of six people literally from birth to the time they make a run for it to South Korea. I shan't review the contents of the book here because there are other reviewers who have already done that quite well.
It can be a dodgy business to base facts on the information provided by defectors - or maybe refugees is a better word - but I think the author is on the safe side here. There are now thousands of North Koreans who have managed to leave NK and the stories they tell are not dissimilar from the accounts given in this book.
What I liked about the book is how well the author manages to convey the emotions of the people portrayed and I guess this is what makes it difficult for the reader to put this book down. I read it in one go largely because I had the time but also because it is a rather captivating story.
I also liked the notes because there is additional information to each of the chapters plus a selected bibliography. If you know your Korean history - North or South - you will know quite a few of these authors and if you are not all that firm on the subject, there is some excellent further reading suggested there.
One last point. There are some reviews published not only on this book but on other books on North Korea whose style bear an uncanny resemblance to that used by the NK propaganda machine for its `official news'. Although these comments have become somewhat more sophisticated in style you will have no problems recognising them for what they are.
But apart from that, this is a worthwhile book and I think the author deserves the credit she received for her effort.