Waiting on Wednesday: Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim

Waiting on Wednesday meme

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine where we spotlight upcoming releases that we are anticipating.

Nonfiction – MemoirWithout You There is No Us, Suki Kim, North Korea
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Crown
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Ever since reading The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, I’ve been intrigued by life in North Korea. While I didn’t actually like The Orphan Master’s Son, one part about it I did enjoy was getting a glimpse into the life of North Korean ordinary citizens. Things were so backward in North Korea that I actually forgot I was reading about present day until the mention of an ATM machine in South Korea jarred me back to reality. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to read some nonfiction about life under Dear Leader.

Plot Summary from Amazon
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.”

What book are you waiting for?

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  1. bookmammal wrote:

    I have this book on hold at the library and I’m really hoping it comes in soon–as a former teacher I love reading about education and I also like reading about cultures that are radically different from my own. I think this book is going to hit both of those areas for me!

    Posted 10.14.14 Reply
  2. Oh, goodness, yes, I do want to read this! It sounds fascinating. Back in the ’90s, when we were first married, my husband was stationed in South Korea for a year with the US Army–we have both been very interested in North Korea ever since. Thanks for bringing this to my attention–I’ll request it from my library.

    Posted 10.15.14 Reply
  3. I read this book last month and thought it was really wonderful — it’s so interested to get inside societies that are otherwise closed. I hope you will get to read it!

    Posted 10.15.14 Reply
  4. I am so excited to read this one, too! It’s on its way to me as we speak 🙂

    Posted 10.17.14 Reply

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