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North Korea: A nation in the dark

January 8, 2010 |  3:40 pm


Barbara Demick’s "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea" is looked at in this Sunday’s Book Review by Art Winslow, who calls it "a piercing account" that weaves together "life stories of half a dozen defectors that credibly suggest a human rights tragedy of enormous proportion is taking place relatively out of Western public view."

Even if she weren't one of ours -- Demick is the Beijing bureau chief for the Times -- I’d recommend the book for its harrowing glimpse of life as it’s being lived right now north of the DMZ.

If you don’t have time, though, this may be one of those instances when a proverbial picture is worth 1,000 words (or, in the case of Demick's book, 320 pages). In fact, Demick supplies that picture right at the beginning of her very first chapter. It is a NASA satellite image showing the Korean peninsula at night.

"South Korea, Japan, and now China fairly gleam with prosperity," she writes. "Then in the middle of it all, an expanse of blackness nearly as large as England. It is baffling how a nation of 23 million people can appear as vacant as the oceans. North Korea is simply a blank."

-- Nick Owchar

Photo: Satellite photo of North and South Korea by night. Credit: NASA