Nothing to Envy Book Summary - Nothing to Envy Book explained in key points
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Nothing to Envy summary

Barbara Demick

Real Lives in North Korea

4.3 (39 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick is a non-fiction book that follows the lives of six North Koreans as they struggle to survive poverty, famine, and dictatorship. It provides a heart-wrenching insight into life under the oppressive regime of North Korea.

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    Nothing to Envy
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    The US Government’s decision to divide Korea in two led to the Korean War five years later.

    During World War II, Korea was an obscure Japanese colony of little geopolitical importance. But when this peninsula just off the northern coast of China fell victim to the post-war power struggles between the United States and the USSR, things began to change.

    In order to appease the USSR and maintain the balance among world powers, the United States divided the Korean peninsula into two parts. Fearing the Soviets would attempt to seize Korea in order to reach Japan, the United States gave the northern half of Korea to the USSR as a temporary trusteeship, while taking over the southern half themselves.

    Washington drew the dividing line at the 38th parallel as an arbitrary matter of convenience, not for historical or geographical reasons. Koreans had no say in the division of their country; they saw themselves as victims of a struggle between superpowers.

    Neither side was willing to reunify the peninsula and allow Koreans to regain independence, so by 1948, two republics emerged. The Republic of Korea was founded under the leadership of Syngman Rhee in the South. Kim Il-sung, a resistance fighter during the Japanese occupation, founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North.

    In 1950, the two sides’ contesting claims to legitimate governance led to the Korean War. On June 25 of the same year, Kim Il-sung, backed by Soviet tanks, caught the South Korean military by surprise and captured its capital city, Seoul.

    In response, several other countries joined the war: the United States and a United Nations coalition of 15 nations fought for the South and pushed back Kim Il-sung’s forces, who were now also backed by China. The war ended in armistice three years later, having accomplished next to nothing. The border along the 38th parallel had hardly moved, and 3 million people had lost their lives.

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    What is Nothing to Envy about?

    Nothing to Envy (2010) presents fascinating first-hand anecdotes from North Korean defectors, giving intimate insights into the lives of North Koreans under the rule of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. The thousands of refugees who arrive in South Korea each year bring with them stories of famine, repression and an isolated nation that has fallen out of touch with the developed world.

    Nothing to Envy Review

    Nothing to Envy (2009) is a captivating exploration of the lives of ordinary North Koreans and their struggles to survive in a repressive regime. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Packed with eye-opening stories, it offers a firsthand look into the daily lives of North Koreans, providing a unique perspective on a secluded society.
    • By weaving together personal narratives and historical context, the book paints a comprehensive picture of the country's history, politics, and socio-economic challenges.
    • The author's compelling storytelling captures the resilience and determination of the individuals showcased, making it impossible to put down.

    Best quote from Nothing to Envy

    Establishing juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in ones own country. – Kim Il-sung

    —Barbara Demick
    example alt text

    Who should read Nothing to Envy?

    • Anyone interested in North Korea
    • Anyone who wants to know what it’s like to live under a communist dictatorship
    • Those curious about the lives of defectors and refugees

    About the Author

    Barbara Demick is an American journalist and current bureau chief in Beijing for the Los Angeles Times. Her work on North Korea has won her the Overseas Press Club award for human rights reporting, the Asia Society’s Osborne Elliott prize and the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Award.

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    Nothing to Envy FAQs 

    What is the main message of Nothing to Envy?

    The main message of Nothing to Envy is the resilience and determination of ordinary North Koreans in the face of adversity.

    How long does it take to read Nothing to Envy?

    The reading time for Nothing to Envy varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Nothing to Envy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Nothing to Envy is a captivating and eye-opening book that shines a light on the lives of North Koreans. It is definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Nothing to Envy?

    The author of Nothing to Envy is Barbara Demick.