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Discussion Questions for Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

​Our staff readers have prepared this list of discussion questions for those reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. Soon we will be introducing staff reading the book and they will begin posting their own thoughts on these questions…and we hope you will join the conversation!

Discussion Questions for Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

1.  Barbara Demick describes her efforts to achieve and maintain authenticity and how she collected stories of North Koreans now living in South Korea for her book. What do you consider to be advantages, challenges and limitations of writing a book about a country and culture from an outside perspective?

2. What does it take to survive in North Korea? How do some get around the restrictive laws?

3. How did a formerly wealthy, industrialized country  – which attracted Chinese from across the border – deteriorate into its present state?

4. What clues do we get in the book about how the North Korean government maintained control after most other communist regimes collapsed or introduced major reforms?

5. Do Koreans love their “dear leader” as much as they claim?

6. What challenges might Korea face if the border between South and North Korea opened?

7. In the beginning of the book, Mi-ran describes the ‘cadence of life’ as slower in North Korea.  Nobody owned a watch, there was nothing to do after dark since there was no electricity, people would wait hours for a train to pull into a station to get to work.  This presented some difficulties to those who defected to South Korea.  How did they learn to manage their new fast paced lives?

8. Demick describes North Korea, not as an undeveloped country, but as “a country that has fallen out of the developed world.” What does she mean? What would it be like for any of us to live under the conditions in North Korea? What would be most difficult for you? What shocked or angered you most about the book’s descriptions of life in the DPRK?

9. Was the book hard for you to get through, or did you find yourself unable to put the book down? Were you depressed, angered, outraged, thankful for your own life, all of the above, none of the above, something else?
People to People International’s Global Book Club is a way to connect with your global community. Global Book Club members communicate about valuable, international topics and gain unique insight and understanding of various cultural views in relation to those topics. For more information on People to People International, visit www.ptpi.org

The opinions expressed by PTPI staff and other book club members are entirely their own and are not necessarily the views of  PTPI or its Officers, Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.
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