I must say, I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. It had all the elements of a wonderful non fiction: compelling subject matter, new information, and nice writing style. I am sad that this book isn’t a best seller, but not terribly surprised when I see the types of books that become best sellers. Demick is a journalist, and it works in her favor with this non fiction. She has the ability to see an entire picture and pull out the most important parts to present something that resonates with readers. To present a clear idea of life in mystery ridden North Korea Demick selected one specific region and interviewed six different refugees who’d gone to South Korea. She follows their lives over a fifteen year period and not only presents their lives in North Korea, but their adjustment to South Korea as well.
The book begins in the 1990s following a young girl, named Mi-ran, as she takes advantage of the lack of power to sneak off into the evening and meet with her boyfriend, Jun-sang. Mi-ran’s story is the most compelling (to me) and her courage and determination pursue education despite a black mark on her family was inspiring. Along with Mi-Ran and Jun-sang, we learn about the lives of Song Hee-suk and her daughter Oak-hee who both disagree about party politics, but suffer just the same during the food shortages. Kim Hyauck an orphan and Kim Ji-eun a pediatrician round out the ‘characters’.
Demick did a wonderful job of showing the human side of extremist ideology. Instead of telling stories about political dissenters, Demick focuses on various paradigms of belief. From the true believers Mrs. Song and Dr. Kim, to those who hate the North Korean regime Oak-hee and Mi-ran. In between are those who slowly came to question Kim Jong-il’s tactics. Not only does Demick show the horror and devastation of hunger, she also illustrates the beauty that each of them found in their lives in North Korea. I shed tears, lots of tears, while reading this book. I have put it on my list to give out this Christmas. This non fiction met the ‘changed my life’ criteria that I have for a truly great book.