Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick is a powerful book that details the lives of six men and women. This book describes their lives in North Korea, their defection and the struggles to adjust to life in South Korea.


Demick does a fantastic job of capturing the day-to-day lives of the men and women she interviewed for the book. The interviewees tell stories about their childhood, school, growing up under a communist regime with a rigid class system and the propaganda that makes Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look like gods to the North Korean people.

Multiple chapters of Nothing to Envy are dedicated to describing life during the famine of the 1990s. While it was interesting to learn about the famine and read the stories of people who survived it – the stories were heartbreaking. The men and women, along with their families, were willing to do or eat anything just to survive. It made me realize how lucky I am to have such an abundance of food at my disposal.

Finally, the book ends with the story of how each person defected from North Korea and tells a little bit about their life in South Korea. Although all six of the people profiled in the book escaped from North Korea, some of the stories of defection do not truly have happy endings.

One thing (in a long list) that I enjoyed about Nothing to Envy was the author’s ability to integrate historical facts about the Korean War, North Korean politics and international relations and the Korean Peninsula into the book. Demick fit them into places effortlessly so the book never lost its flow when transitioning between the stories and historical facts.

With all of the present day events happening in North Korea,  I highly recommend Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. This book is available for checkout at the VC/UHV Library. You can find it in our Leisure Reading area.

Review written by Amanda B.