Summer Reading Book Information

The 2015 Summer Reading as Inquiry book selection is Nothing to Envy:  Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.

What if the nightmare imagined by George Orwell in 1984 were real?  What if you had to live in a country where radio dials were fixed to a single government station?  Where the surroundings were entirely black-and-white except for the red lettering of the propaganda signs?  Where you were required to keep a large portrait of the president on your living room wall and bow to it on national holidays?  Where sexuality was repressed except for purposes of reproduction?  Where spies like Orwell's Thought Police studied your facial expressions during political rallies to make sure you were sincere not only in your speech but your thoughts?

This is a real place - The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea or North Korea.  The Communist regime that has controlled the northern half of the Korean peninsula since 1945 might be the most totalitarian of modern world history.  Nothing to Envy offers a never-before-seen view of a country and society largely unknown to the rest of the world. 

In Nothing to Envy, Demick follows the lives of six people:  a couple of teenaged lovers courting in secret, an idealistic woman doctor, a homeless boy, a model factory worker who loves Kim II Sung more than her own family and her rebellious daughter.

Demick spent six years painstakingly reconstructing life in a city off-limits to outsiders through interviews with defectors, smuggled photographs and videos.  The book spans the chaotic years that saw the death of Kim II-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, the devastating effects of a famine that killed an estimated twenty percent of the population, and an increase in illegal defections.

While many books focus on the North Korean nuclear threat, Nothing to Envy is one of the few that dwells on what everyday life is like for ordinary citizens.  With remarkable detail, Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime in the world today.  She gives a portrait as vivid as walking oneself through the darkened streets of North Korea.

Reviewers have compared the book to John Hersey's Hiroshima and to Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism.  Both the New Yorker and Paris Review published excerpts of the book.

Purchase this year’s book online and have it mailed to you from the Michigan Tech Bookstore, or buy it from your favorite local or online bookseller.