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Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
If you’ve ever read Orwell’s “1984,” you’ve probably raged more than once at the Orwellian nature of today’s world. Just wait till you hear a thing or two about North Korea!
After reading the summary of “Without You There Is No Us”, instead of blaming your country – whichever it is – you’ll probably feel grateful. Yes, it’s that bad.
Read for yourself if you don’t trust us.
Who Should Read “Without You, There Is No Us”? And Why?
North Korea is the most enigmatic country in the world. And people like enigmas. Those interested in political enigmas – will certainly enjoy the book. As will anyone intrigued by a country which, even in the 21st century, looks too fictional to be real.
About Suki Kim
Suki Kim is an American New-York-based author of Korean descent, and a recipient of Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships. She has written for “The New York Times” and “The New York Review of Books.” She is also the author of an award-winning novel, “The Interpreter.”
“Without You There Is No Us Summary”
Looking at the title, one might suppose that it’s a romantic novel or, better yet, a melodramatic family tale!
The subtitle makes it all much clearer. “Without You, There Is No Us” is not something children say to their parents, but a verse from a patriotic hymn which North Korean students sing twice a day to their glorious leader, Kim Jong-Il.
Welcome to North Korea!
Yes, this summary’s going to be as bizarre and as depressing as it gets.
For example, did you see what we did above? We tried writing an introductory paragraph to entice you and motivate you to read further.
According to Suki Kim, the concept is alien to North Korean students. The very idea of writing an essay – so, an appealingly written paper stating one’s personal opinions – is intelligible even to the brightest students.
Because, there’s no “I” in “North Korea.” And, in their case, this is not a good thing. Regrettably, it’s also merely the beginning.
Fortunately, for the first time, we have the whole story.
Notoriously isolated, North Korea is visited rarely by foreigners, and, even rarer, by foreign journalists. In fact, up to recently, Suki Kim was the only journalist to have ever lived in North Korea.
How did she do it?
By going undercover, of course.
She went in with a group of Christian missionaries, disguised as an English teacher. And she got a job at the prestigious Pyongyang University of Science & Technology (PUST).
And this is where things started getting really weird.
For one thing, she was instantly assigned a driver and something she calls a minder. His job? You’ve guessed it: keeping a close eye on what Suki Kim did.
And when we say “close” we do mean “close”: it was his regular full-time job. He was always around her, watching each and every one of her steps. For example, if she wanted to go and eat lunch somewhere, she was obliged to take her driver and her minder with her.
And yes: she did have to pay for their lunch as well!
Looking retroactively, paying for the lunch of her minder was the least of her concerns. The more important was – going to great lengths to adhere to the strict North Korean ideology.
Because in North Korea, almost anything can get you into prison!
Taking photographs, for example, is really difficult. Especially if they are from children or the military. Listening to rock n’ roll music is also not allowed. Watching a foreign TV channel (which is all but impossible, since there’s no internet) might get you executed.
And wrapping your lunch in newspaper page with the image of Kim Jong-Il – now, that’s a seriously big “no-no.”
Even jogging is frowned upon! It’s just too crazy to expect from Kim to go into details why would jogging bother anybody.
Yet, it does. Combined with the other two hundred thousand possible offenses (who can count them, really?), it results in millions of executed people and hundreds of thousands rotting in the twenty North Korean gulags.
This is not an exaggeration. These are official UN and Human Rights Watch numbers.
And they’re nothing when compared to the number of North Koreans who have died because of poverty and hunger. Just for an illustration: during the four years between 1994 and 1998, it is estimated that 3 million North Koreans (about a tenth of the population) died because of famine.
The North Koreans call it the Arduous March. We’ll call it: bad government. But only in a whisper and only here, on safe.
Of course, we’re not planning to go to North Korea!
Key Lessons from “Without You, There Is No Us”
1. North Korea Is a Country with Many Problems
2. Respect Journalists: You Owe a Lot of What You Know to Them
3. Be Yourself: Individualism Is More Than Any Government Can Take
North Korea Is a Country with Many Problems
Not that we didn’t know this, but it’s always good to here the truth from someone able to share it with you firsthand: North Korea is one of the worst countries in the world.
The well-known cult of the Great Leader is a small problem when compared to monitoring and economic failures, to isolation and lack of individualism.
For example, nobody in North Korea will ever read this. Because they don’t even have internet.
Respect Journalists: You Owe a Lot of What You Know to Them
It’s extremely difficult to get into North Korea. Consequently, you would have known nothing about it – let alone the students at PUST – if there were no journalists willing to risk their lives and well-being to tell you the North Korean story.
Almost everything you know about North Korea is because of them. Don’t forget it the next time you generalize and blame the media for all the lies around.
Be Yourself: Individualism Is More Than Any Government Can Take
If there’s one thing you should be grateful for, it’s the fact that you can be yourself. You can choose to do what you like, and you can say “no” whenever you feel like. Hell, you can even wrap your lunch inside an image of Donald Trump and nobody would say anything to you!
Powerful governments are afraid of unique people. They need conformists.
Don’t ever become one.
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“Without You, There Is No Us” QuotesFor a place shrouded in rumors of violence, Pyongyang always appears surprisingly gentle, at least at first. Click To Tweet At times my students revealed a cluelessness that surprised me. Once a student asked me if it was true that everyone in the world spoke Korean. Click To Tweet When I saw my students marching, I thought of the word soldiers. There they were, every direction we turned: soldiers and slaves. Click To Tweet The only two English-language writers I ever heard them mention were Sidney Sheldon and Margaret Mitchell. Click To Tweet Their Great Leaders were always compared to the sun—Kim Il-sung’s birthday was Sun’s Day and Kim Jong-il was called “the Sun of the 21st century”—but there was no warmth from that sun. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Without You, There Is No Us” is one of the few books about North Korea written from an insider’s perspective. That’s a reason too many to read it. However, at least to us, it seems that the book fails to fulfill the initial expectations.
Because it’s much more personal and melodramatic than you would expect it to be. Consequently, there’s less inside it about North Korea than about Suki Kim. Worth the read, nevertheless.