This was my book club pick for January:
My mom recommended it from someone who recommended it to her from her book club.
It is a book filled with the stories of a handful of people who have defected from North Korea, and it was fascinating and heart-wrenching and eye-opening all at the same time.
The stories were compelling, and the history was wrapped into each story in such a way that it drew me in and I learned so much. I was horrified at the same time as I was compelled to keep reading.
Dave and I watched a documentary about North Korea ages ago which has stuck with me ever since. Our friends from China had a chance to actually go there for a couple days last year and it was so fascinating to watch their Instagram posts about their journey...it is such a peculiar and sad and unpredictable land.
The book is called "Nothing to Envy" because of a quote from a popular song one of the defectors remembered from when they would recite it at school: "Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world. Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party. We are all brothers and sisters. Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid, our father is here. We have nothing to envy in this world."
This was recited in the schools when people were starving to death from lack of food. All the "Dear Leader" references intermingled with a whole country seemingly hypnotized at times because they are not allowed to think for themselves eerily reminded me of Ayn Rand's novel "Anthem" that Grace is reading right now.
I haven't hosted our book club in ages, and normally I would have been all over that, baking and coming up with discussion topics.
But it happened to come up right at the end of our crazy couple weeks when Bo and our two extra girls were living with us (back here), and I'm not kidding around when I say those weeks felt like I was in some sort of a blur. Suddenly I realized I still had more than half of the book to read and I was two days away from book club.
So I hired a babysitter for all three of my charges while the big kids were at school and went to sit in a parking lot to READ.
I read every minute I could.
I had read-a-thons with the girls and got everyone reading so I could finish that thing in time.
The amount of fold-over pages generally illustrate how intrigued I was by each book I read...this one might take the cake on the most markings:
All these lovely ladies showed up and the discussion was lively and interesting...at least that's how it felt swirling around me. I really wasn't myself and wasn't overly prepared. Thank Heavens it was a book that lent itself to some serious contemplation and discussion without any question prompts from the group foggy leader.
Love these ladies, so many of whom we have read together for so many years.
That was the kind of night it was :)
So much to discuss yet such a blurry mind those days!
So it's good for me to re-think it all through now that my brain is a little more functional.
Although there are too many to count, here are a few quotes that stood out to me:
“North Korea invites parody. We laugh at the excesses of the propaganda and the gullibility of the people. But consider that their indoctrination began in infancy, during the fourteen-hour days spent in factory day-care centers; that for the subsequent fifty years, every song, film, newspaper article, and billboard was designed to deify Kim Il-sung; that the country was hermetically sealed to keep out anything that might cast doubt on Kim Il-sung's divinity. Who could possibly resist?”
“If North Koreans paused to contemplate the obvious inconsistencies and lies in what they were told, they would find themselves in a dangerous place. They didn't have a choice. They couldn't flee their country, depose their leadership, speak out, or protest. In order to fit in, the average citizen had to discipline himself not to think too much.”
“North Korean defectors often find it hard to settle down. It is not easy for somebody who’s escaped a totalitarian country to live in the free world. Defectors have to rediscover who they are in a world that offers endless possibilities. Choosing where to live, what to do, even which clothes to put on in the morning is tough enough for those of us accustomed to making choices; it can be utterly paralyzing for people who’ve had decisions made for them by the state their entire lives.”
It is a book that opened my eyes in ways they needed to be opened but was tragically sad to read. This is our world. It's almost unfathomable to recognize that this little country is part of it.
Go read it! (Other reviews and information over HERE.)