If you’ve been following international news lately, you have probably noticed a spike in rhetoric and tension coming out of North Korea, and corresponding political maneuvering from South Korea and the United States. Fortunately for information buffs, in the past five years several excellent non-fiction books have been published that provide us a rare peek into everyday life in North Korea. Here are three such titles:
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
This is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, born inside one of the massive political prisons in the mountains of North Korea. At 23 years old Shin escaped, to China then South Korea and the United States. Harden matter-of-factly relates Shin’s story – both the details of day-to-day life, as well as the psychic realities of knowing only prison life from birth.
The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor D. Cha
Cha steps back to take a more socio-political view, analyzing North Korea’s history, ideology, economics, society and foreign relations to explain how North Korea has survived despite losing its Soviet benefactors, the death of two dictators and economic collapse.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Demick, former Los Angeles Times Seoul bureau chief, conducted interviews with six North Korean defectors who were all from the same city in northern North Korea. These individual stories combine to really give a sense of what day-to-day life was like over a 15-year period that included the failure of the electrical grid, a wide-spread famine that killed one-fifth of the population, the death of Kim Il-song and the transfer of power to Kim Jong-il.