How writer Suki Kim embedded herself among North Korea’s elite – Dec. 18, 2014 CBC The Current


A Feb. 25, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “The Meaning of Kim Jong Nam’s Murder: His death has punctured the myth of the Kims’ holy bloodline.”

A Feb. 28, 2017 CBC article is entitled: “Friendship on the rocks? China, North Korea clash over nuclear and chemical weapons: North Korea’s reaction was so strong that some Chinese experts initially thought the commentary was fake.”

An April 7, 2017 Atlantic article is entitled: “What Are America’s Options on North Korea?: At this point, there are only two ways to reverse its nuclear program, one expert says.”



A Dec. 18, 2014 CBC The Current podcast is entitled: “How writer Suki Kim embedded herself among North Korea’s elite.”

The interview prompted me to borrow, from the Toronto Library, Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite (2014) by Suki Kim.

It’s a well-written book – beautifully and sensitively written, with a feeling for nuance and subtlety – and gives me an understanding of North Korea, and the history of South Korean and North Korea, and the wider geopolitical history of which they are a part, that adds immeasurably to my understanding of that part of the world. I recommend the book highly.

The book serves as a work of art. Sometimes a book can take you places, in your reading, where you have not been before, in your reading.

The role of art among other things is to enable us to look anew at the reality, or perceptual context, in which the art is embedded. Suki Kim’s book has introduced me to a land that I knew little about, aside from occasional news reports.

The book also opened my eyes to aspects of how the mind works. The resulting insights are of relevance no matter where in the world we may choose to direct our gaze.

I’m aware, as well, that North Korea represents one particular way of seeking – I speak here of the original “good intentions” to address issues related to inequality in human existence, as evidenced during the course of history.

The blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website reads:


A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign

Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields–except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.

Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues – evangelical Christian missionaries who don’t know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn’t share their faith. As the weeks pass, she is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. At the same time, they offer Suki tantalizing glimpses of their private selves – their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished. She in turn begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own – at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. But when Kim Jong-il dies, and the boys she has come to love appear devastated, she wonders whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.

Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

[End of text from Toronto Public Library website]

A generation of South Korean adoptees

A Jan. 14, 2015 New York Times article entitled “Why a generation of adoptees is returning to South Korea” is also of interest. The latter article highlights cultural differences between South Korea and the United States, as experienced by adoptees who have returned to South Korea.

Also of interest

A Jan. 10, 2015 CBC The Current podcast is entitled: “North Korean Camp 14 survivor Shin Dong-hyuk embellished story.”

A Jan. 22, 2015 Guardian article is entitled: “Is western media an unwitting ally of North Korea’s propaganda?”

A May 15, 2014 CBC Day 6 podcast is entitled: “Being the poet laureate of North Korea.”

A Jan. 10, 2010 CBC Dispatches podcast is entitled: “North Korea: the darkest nation (audio).” The podcast refers to a book entitled: Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives In North Korea (2009).

An Oct. 24, 2014 CBC The Current podcast is entitled: “White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are forming alliances with North Korea.”

A Feb. 2, 2015 Reuters article is entitled: “Nut rage: Korean Air boss’s daughter treated crew ‘like slaves'”.

A July 15, 2015 CBC podcast is entitled: “Hyeonseo Lee shares her perilous escape from North Korea.”

Useful resources

Korea: The Impossible Country (2012).

The Korean Popular Culture Reader (2014)

North Korea (2014)

The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (2013)

South Korean soap operas

A Jan. 24, 2015 New York Times article is entitled: “North Korea’s Forbidden Love? Smuggled, Illegal Soap Operas.”

The article notes:

Analysts and defectors alike say there are limits to how much outside entertainment can accomplish. A recent study by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification of 149 recent defectors showed that more than eight in 10 had been exposed to South Korean movies or songs before fleeing the North. But most of them lived in areas close to China, where it is easier for smugglers to maneuver, and it is unclear how widely such entertainment has spread.

Still, the defectors say that the soaps are a potent tool for exposing North Koreans to the outside world after years of mixed results from official psychological warfare that included shortwave radio broadcasts and propaganda messages blared over the border from loudspeakers in the South.

For some North Koreans, the emotional tug of the soaps was powerful enough to change their lives, forever.

Kim Seung-hee, 24, is one. She watched her first drama, “Stairway to Heaven,” courtesy of soldiers who asked to use her home for safe watching, and was hooked immediately, drawn not only to South Korea’s freedoms, but also to the promise of love in a more open society.

“South Korean men in the films had such good manners toward women, unlike North Korean men who like to order us around,” she said. “It made me yearn for South Korea, dreaming of meeting such a man.”

[End of excerpt]


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