** Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite is an extraordinary memoir of a young woman teaching English as a second language in an exclusive university, attended by the sons of privileged families in North Korea. I enjoyed the way the book gave insights into the lives of the students (privileged, yes, but still expected to stand guard outside in cold weather, without warm clothes, and prevented from visiting their families for months at a time) and of the bubble she and the students lived, compared to ordinary North Koreans.

At the same time, the author was there under false pretenses, pretending to her hierarchy to be a missionary when she was in fact a journalist, while all of them pretended to the regime not to be missionaries at all  — and her repeated complaints of the burden of pretending got to be a little self-centered. What did she expect. Also, she often expresses surprise that her students are lying to her, without seeming to want to explore why, in a society where deviating from the norm can bring prison and worse, people may not be habituated to saying what the other party may want to hear. (And, after all, isn’t she lying to them and to her colleagues about who she really is?) Still, well worth reading for a peek at a very closed society.


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