Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Interview that Started it All

Here are some of the things I did over the Memorial Day weekend:

  • I ran a 10 mile race with thousands of other people that went on Lake Shore Drive, down the Chicago Lakefront path and ended in Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears and a memorial to fallen American soldiers.

  • I ate BBQ with my friends and and we made fun of Obama's new policy banning clove cigarettes.

  • I drank PBR and then went to the gym today to work it off.

  • I attended two yoga classes that encouraged people to be thankful for all they have.

  • I called my parents 2x to see how their weekend was going.

  • Today, after the holiday weekend, I will go to the grocery store. While I may complain that the produce is not fresh all the time in Chicago, everything I want to buy will most likely be at the store in abundance and if something is not there I can substitute something else.

No one went to a gulag. No one was tortured. No one went hungry. No one was afraid while we poked fun at Obama. No one was worried that they would never see their families again. We were respectful of the veterans attending the BBQ but my friends and I realize we are lucky to be a generation that has not been required to serve in the military.

The NPR feature of Barbara Demick talking about her book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in Korea" is the interview that started my curiosity about North Korea. I was not aware of how isolated North Korea is from the rest of the world. I was not aware of the hunger faced by the population because North Korea can't produce enough food to feed its people.

Demick follows six North Koreans who have defected to South Korea and share their story with her. She is a talented writer who lets the people's stories speak for themselves. She does not have to add much because the stories are so sensational. I was thinking about the use of the word "ordinary" in the subtitle. I thought "these people are extraordinary to have survived what they did". That's the rub because their lives are ordinary when compared to others in North Korea because the experiences are the same.

North Korea has been in the news recently due to the sinking of the Cheonan. As this book points out, the relationship between North and South Korea is very complicated. Can the country be unified? Could the South cut off the North - wouldn't it just make the situation worse and cause more defections to South Korea? I don't know and I'm not an expert but an interested observer. I will be following the results of the North Korean team during World Cup. I feel it would be false to cheer for them, since my team will be U.S.A., but I still hope they win a game or two.

I highly recommend Demick's book. It's a quick and fascinating read and a very good introduction to North Korea. This one focuses on the people of the country and more recent times while "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader" is about the history and the leaders. I had to return "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader" to the library since it was overdue but I put it back on hold so will finish it when it comes back around to me.

**Barbara Demick's November 2, 2009 New Yorker story "The Good Cook" is worked into "Nothing to Envy". (Vol 85, Issue 35). Available via ProQuest if you have a Chicago Public Library card.

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