North Korea has been in the news a lot lately. Recently President Trump called North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un “the rocket man”. This worried me. Doesn’t he know better than to bully a country? Especially one that has nuclear weapons and an immature leader at the top. Scared as I was, I realized I didn’t know very much about North Korea. Frankly, my knowledge was limited to thinking of North Korea as the bad place and South Korea being the good place. And all the leaders in North Korea seem to be named Kim Jong something or other.
My research led me to read two books about North Korea. The first was the Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. The novel features Pak Jun Do who reminded me of Forest Gump. Pak Jun Do is an orphan who grows up in a labor camp. At a very early age he is identified to be a good citizen who not only does what he is told but does it extremely well. He starts out his career as a kidnapper and goes on to reach the highest level of government.
The book is a story of love and sacrifice and also paints a picture of what life is like in North Korea.
It was a novel so it got me thinking, is it really that bad? My friend, Cathy, recommended a companion book called “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick. Barbara is a journalist who interviewed and followed the lives of 6 North Korean defectors over 15 years.
This book explained more about the culture of “Songbun” which is the caste based system that assigns jobs and status based on party membership. This system fosters the repressed society by instilling fear in the minds of all citizens. One bad word about the party that is overheard by a spy (they are everywhere – who can you trust?) can banish you and your family to a prison camp.
In this system the government provides jobs, food and housing, however in the mid ’90’s a terrible drought impacted the crops and left millions of people dead of starvation. The book goes into great detail about the imaginative ways the 6 defectors survived.
While these books are a bit depressing they are both excellent books that I would highly recommend. I found myself appreciating our fine country even more. We have plenty of food, opportunity and free speech. In North Korea I would be banished to a prison camp for the first paragraph of this blog. God Bless America.