I’ve recently read two books by Barbara Demick that I’ve been going on and on to A. about, so I thought this would be a good place to start this blog!
I can’t quite remember how I found out about Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, I know it was shortly after I read Guy Delisle’s graphic novel, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (actually, it was a bit of a Guy Deslisle orgy, I read Shenzhen and Burma Chronicles in the same week). While Delisle’s books offer a fascinating personal, outsider’s perspective on repressive countries, Nothing to Envy is something else entirely. The website offers a thorough description. Briefly, the book is based on interviews with six people, from the same city in northern North Korea, near the Chinese border, all of whom have defected to South Korea by the end of the book. Demick’s writing is vivid and the city and it’s people come to life.
I’m not writing anything that directly hooks up with Nothing to Envy, of course, although there are aspects that will certainly feed into the novel I’m working on (let’s refer to it as PC). Demick’s choice of individuals to follow is, of course, constrained by circumstance — she can’t talk to people who haven’t left — but all the same, within that, the people are all very different and the stories of how they came to defect vary tremendously. I’m intrigued by the mindsets that are portrayed, the way in which people cope with such an atmosphere (heavily constrained socially as well as politically).
When I looked up Demick to see what else she had written, I was thrilled to find Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Saravejo Neighborhood (out of print, I got a copy through inter-library loan). Logavina Street is a lot more relevant to PC. Relevant enough, in fact, to throw me into the depths of another round of complete indecision as to where PC is going (or, more properly, where it’s coming from, as it is the background and “big picture” stuff that is eluding me). Logavina Street has a similar set up to Nothing To Envy, people in a small geographic area experiencing particular external stress. Logavina Street differs in the exact circumstances, of course — constant bombardment, snipers, the omnipresent reality of war is obviously a different sort of thing. It also differs, though, in the outcome — some of the people escape from Bosnia, others stay, some go and return. Anyway, it’s a fascinating read. It certainly gave me a lot to consider.