Book Club

Nothing To Envy - Barbara Demick

In April there will not be a formal meeting, instead we will be going out for a meal on Thurs 26th April  to 107 Dining Room in Heswall. If you would like to be included in this outing please let Eleanor know. (Some of us will be reading ‘To Kill the President’ by Sam Bourne during April with a view to chatting about it over dinner. This is entirely optional! )


The next meeting of the Book Club will be on Thurs May 10th when we will be talking about ‘Nothing to Envy’ by Barbara Demick. Doors open for refreshment at 7 pm and discussion starts at 7.30pm.

For introduction and discussion questions see below:

A remarkable view into North Korea, as seen through the lives of six ordinary citizens.

Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Taking us into a landscape most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects—average North Korean citizens—fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them. 

Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance. (From the publisher.)


Nothing to Envy: Barbara Demick

  1.  Barbara Demick describes her efforts to achieve and maintain authenticity and how she collected stories of North Koreans now living in South Korea for her book. What do you consider to be advantages, challenges and limitations of writing a book about a country and culture from an outside perspective?
  2. In the beginning of the book, Mi-ran describes the ‘cadence of life’ as slower in North Korea.  Nobody owned a watch, there was nothing to do after dark since there was no electricity, people would wait hours for a train to pull into a station to get to work.  This presented some difficulties to those who defected to South Korea.  How did they learn to manage their new fast paced lives?
  3. Demick follows the lives of six North Koreans. Whose story do you find most compelling, disturbing, horrific—or inspiring?
  4. Demick describes North Korea, not as an undeveloped country, but as "a country that has fallen out of the developed world." What does she mean? What would it be like for any of us to live under the conditions in North Korea? What would be most difficult for you? What shocked or angered you most about the book's descriptions of life in the DPRK?
  5. Discuss the history of North Korea and its descent into deprivation. How did a formerly wealthy, industrialized country—which attracted Chinese from across the border—deteriorate into its present state?
  6. What does it take to survive in North Korea? How do some get around the restrictive laws?
  7. Talk about what happens to those who manage to defect. How do they manage life outside North Korea? What are the difficulties— both practical and psychological—they confront in their new lives?
  8. Do Koreans love their "dear leader" as much as they claim?
  9. What clues do we get in the book about how the North Korean government maintained control after most other communist regimes collapsed or introduced major reforms?
  10. How does one explain the disparity between North and South Korea?
  11. What challenges might Korea face if the border between South and North Korea opened? How much were you convinced by the new ‘friendship’ between N and S Korea in the light of recent winter Olympics ?
  12. Talk about your experience reading this book? Was it hard to get through...or did you find yourself unable to put the book down? Were you depressed, angered, outraged, thankful for your own life...or all of the

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