6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea (Paperback)
'Nothing to Envy' gives an insight into a regime which was too often glossed over by the almost comic images of goose-stepping soldiers and the sceptically raised eyebrows of Western news presenters before being subsequently superceded by the threat of nuclear weapons and the concernedly furrowed eyebrows of Western politicians.
Demick makes us remember that the most important aspect of the N Korea problem is actually the people that are palpably suffering inside it and we should regard it as more than an 'interesting' case study in Orwellian politics made true.
That the book is based on only a few defectors makes it easy to engage and sympathise with the North Korean people as a whole and helps to avoid the 'coldness' that a more political or summative work can have. Saying that, the book could probably do with more contextual info on the political situation in place of some of the more overly sentimental and histrionic descriptions that perhaps betray Demick's natural habitat as a journalist used to writing shorter pieces which need a neon-bright emotional punch to compete for a reader's attention.
However given the scant availability of information on N Korea we can really appreciate the investigative tenacity that Demick must have possesed in order to produce a work of this length. Although the media prohibitations probably contributed towards this, more could have been made of images in 'Nothing to Envy' given the great potential for North/South contrasts etc. Demick's prose is nonetheless very readable and its lack of political depth stops in getting mired in a narrative dirge from which it becomes difficult to escape; Demick's political asides are weaved throughout the personal stories of the defectors which helps make the history more palatable for those not that way inclined. 'Nothing to Envy' should be recommended as it helps to humanise the people languishing under a stifling dictatorship and reminds us that the people in the midst of such a climate are rarely to blame for the poor perception of the nation as a whole. It also helps us to appreciate that, unlike in the Middle East, there are some places left where we don't have military intervention as a last resort and Demick's work gently introduces us to the diplomatic headache of a divided Korea.