Nothing to Envy

Who could resist so much as cracking a smile when meeting Andy Kershaw otherwise?

Alas, I have too many reading projects at the moment so cannot commit to reading Barbara Demick’s excellent-sounding Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which has just been awarded the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction.

Demick is the bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in Beijing, and wrote this book from first-hand interviews with North Korean refugees. Of the many adultatory reviews I have read, one image stands out for me.

Mi-ran is the daughter of a South Korean soldier captured during the Korean War, and not permitted home. Fortunately for Mi-ran, she overcame the stigma of being beulsan (“of tainted blood”) which had affected her siblings, and became a schoolteacher.

Her career began during the early years of the Korean Holodomor, and her recollection of the first days was of five and six year old children who were the size of three and four year olds, and clearly there primarily for the meager but free school dinner.

Over the course of primary school, classes typically dwindled in size by 50%, 60% or more. And not all the children were removed by their parents to work on farms.

In other news, in Beijing they say, “the gweilo is asking for what??? Wa-haha!”.

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