Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book 26: Without You, There Is No Us

"Was this really concionable? Awakening my students to what was not in the regime's program could mean death for them and those they loved. If they were to wake up and realize that the outside world was in fact not crumbling, that it was their country that was in danger of collapse, that everything they had been taught about the Great Leader was bogus, would that make them happier? How would they live from that point on? Awakening was the luxury available only to those in the free world."

Dates read: March 1-3, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Traveling internationally, even the small amount I've been able to do, is wonderful but alienating. The language is different (even when it's the same), the food is different, the entire pattern of life is different. And that's in first world, Western countries. I can't even imagine what it must be like to go to North Korea. It must be like going to the moon.

Suki Kim, author of Without You, There Is No Us, emigrated to the United States from South Korea with her parents when she was about 13 years old. She became a writer and a habitual wanderer, ending up on a few news trips to North Korea. When an opportunity came up to go there on an extended sojourn by joining the teaching staff of a missionary group running a university, she jumped at the chance. And so she found herself at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), teaching English to upper-class North Korean young men for about six months before returning to the U.S. and writing a book about her experiences there.

This is a memoir, so Kim's family history and personal struggles during her tenure at PUST are recounted along with what it's like to be one of very, very few foreigners living in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The teachers (all missionaries apart from Kim) are effectively imprisoned on campus, only allowed off the grounds for carefully arranged and supervised outings. They are constantly wondering if revealing even small details about life outside the DPRK to their students will lead to their deportation (in the best case) or imprisonment (in the worst). They know their use of limited internet is being constantly monitored, so they have little contact with the outside world. Kim cares for her students, who are eager and obedient learners, while simultaneously being horrified by how easily and often they lie to her. She wonders if they are informing on her for even the smallest line-crossing. She loves them, but she can't trust them or anyone else.

I'm not usually drawn to memoirs, but information about how the hermit kingdom works on the inside, even on the limited scale Kim was able to experience, is fascinating. I'm honestly boggled that a country in our hyperconnected day and age manages to be so isolated from the world around it. You have to think that it'll end one day, that either reunification will happen or it will re-enter the global community as its own country. And when it does, what will North Korean citizens think? Kim's students, the best and brightest the country has to offer, struggle to write essays because the concept of supporting a thesis with facts is so foreign to them. How will the North Korean populace cope with an outside so different than they had been led to believe?

Tell me, blog friends...what do you think about North Korea?

**I received a free copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

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