Sunday, 9 March 2014

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

It started with a picture. I won't link to it here, as it's actually more shocking to Google "North Korea night lights" and see a series of pictures of Asia. China and South Korea show twinkling lights, concentrated in the major cities, but sprinkled throughout. North Korea is devoid of light.  There was a link to the picture on Mumsnet. Somebody said "light pollution is not a measure of civilisation." I totally agree.  She went on to say that what went to show the lack of civilisation are the tales that come out from the country, mainly from those who have managed to escape from it.  A book, Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick was recommended.

Ah, the beauty of the kindle! Within five minutes, I was reading said book. It is a particularly humbling read. My Lenten promise this year was to spend less time procrastinating online, and more time doing craft, and reading spiritually fulfilling things.  Although some of the spiritual stuff so far has been quite good, nothing, NOTHING has made me feel more thankful for my ridiculous amount of luck than reading this.

I don't really watch the news, as I am a worrier at the best of times.  I prefer to give to the charities, and get them to sort it out.  I realise that this is ridiculously cowardly, and I am not proud, but what I know of current affairs tends to come from books (and, about North Korea from Team America). I remember the death of Kim Jon-il a few years ago, but I did not really think about the significance).

This book taught me more about North Korea than I had ever known.  It is absolutely enthralling, and utterly heart-breaking. The tales of famine and loss, and the lies pedalled by the government left me feeling bereft and sick.

I told A and C about the book, obviously a greatly-watered down version.  They were both aghast. It led us to have a look at some of their geography books to see what infants are taught about the country.

I looked first at an absolutely beautiful book that C had for Christmas: Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska. It's a book I would love to display on my wall, the pictures are so rich and beautiful. It does not, however, show every country, and North Korea is not there.

The Philip's Infant School Atlas merely states that "Korea is split into 2 countries: North Korea and South Korea".

The DK Children's World Atlas goes further, stating that North Korea is very poor, due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

DK's What's Where in the World tells the full tale, if one is apt to find it. The series of infographics reveal the stark realities of life in the country, as well as the more positive statistics, such as the very high levels of literacy.

Nothing to Envy is not a book for a child. A mature teenager, possibly, but not a child.  But What's Where in the World is an excellent starting point for discussing the realities of life for people across the world.

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