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Monday, August 25, 2014

Without You, There Is No Us, My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite, A Memoir, By Suki Kim

This book covers six months of the author's life when she lived in North Korea as a foreign Professor. She taught English as a second language to an elite group of young male undergraduates at YUST (Yanbian University of Science and Technology), which is located on the outskirts of Pyongyang (a city where only the privileged are allowed to live-the loyalists). From this reading I learned what I already knew - a closed country is a dangerous country. Nothing shocked me; it was more of a confirmation, with specifics.

The title of this book is frightening and sad. It comes directly from the daily hyperbole North Koreans must contend with. You specifically refers to the Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un, formerly, Kim Jong-il.  Just replace the You with Kim Jong-un, and you have summarized the people's forced oath and their regimes attempt to propagandize their people into believing their leader is a God. In fact, this phrase epitomizes their whole life, day in day out. Everything they do and say is for their Supreme Leader. To indicate otherwise and/or not follow the daily protocol and inoculations is to risk execution or forced hard labor in one of their many gulags. The whole purpose of this life style is to obliterate the peoples sense of self so as to make them completely dependent on their leader. That way, he has total control and he can do whatever he chooses, no matter how criminal.

The shocking thing is, outwardly, the young men of YUST seem to regard everything they are taught as truth. They repeatedly reminded Yuki Kim that they are the most powerful and advanced nation in the world.  What makes their country better? Everything is free, or at least believed to be.  Like a child, their food, electricity, healthcare, schooling, etc., is covered by their Precious Leader, their God. These self-aggrandizing slogans bring to mind two thoughts:  1) doth protest too much, methinks  2) If it is too good to be true, it probably is Yet, if you have been brought up knowing no other way, is it a wonder they do as they are told no matter what their instincts tell them? Or, in order to protect their lives, they outwardly live as if they are in sync with this way of life.

Books do not usually depress me no matter how much violence or oppression they reveal. This is one of the few that did. It comes from a feeling of hopelessness; that these innocent lives will not be able to enjoy the freedom to live and learn as they should. There is no sense of humanity, and from what I understand, no attempts to do anything to free these people. It is unconscionable.

 North Korea is a worn nation closed off on behalf of one man, a dictator. Ironically, it is only the size of the State of Pennsylvania. Kim's account of her experience speaks of a nation of people who need world-wide assistance and protection. It is sad to find out that even the highborn young men of North Korea, who are being groomed to run their country at the side of their Precious Leader, do not get a balanced diet during their University studies. If that is the state of things for the loyalists, what is it like for the rest of the nation? Not to worry, everything is free.

Suki Kim handled her subject matter with grace and understanding. She wrote a thoughtful and engaging memoir in an attempt to provide others with a close-up-view of North Korean life - the one small elite group she had access to. Ironically (because journalist are uninvited suspects, and as an atheistic state the practice of Christianity is forbidden), she was allowed to participate in this rare opportunity as a Professor under a Christian Missionary volunteer program. Thus, she not only had to hide her true journalist purpose from the North Korean's, but from the Christian Missionaries, too. Essentially, she risked her life to do this project. I commend her efforts and hope that it results in some form of positive action.

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