Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (by Barbara Demick).
Imagine a world akin to 1984, Logan's Run or Brave New World. The government controls everything. Life is hard and often short. Brain washing is so common and prevalent that it isn't even really commented on by the population in general. There isn't enough food and what food there is is often plain and unexciting. Not that the populace knows that their lives are odd or different, because they've no basis of comparison.
Outside of this dystopia lies a world where none of that is true. People are free. Life is full of fun and possibility. The only brainwashing is advertising and you are free to ignore it. There's an abundance of food and it comes in a multitude of varieties and flavors.
However, the people in the government controlled section aren't upset that they are being denied, because they don't know anything about the other places. They think everywhere is as bad or worse than where they are.
Now realize that you don't have to imagine this dreary, oppressive world. Because it exists right now. It is called North Korea.
Nothing to Envy was compiled from several people who defected from North Korea. Their stories have been woven together to create a tale that is at times so hard to believe you have to assume it is fantastical fiction. At other times it is so sad and depressing you can't believe that such a reality can be allowed to exist. Finally, it is so scary that it does exist and there isn't much anyone can do about it.
Sure if the people of North Korea rose up to overthrow their government, there would be plenty of help from the outside world, but they are so brainwashed and unaware of the outside world that it would never occur to them that they either could rise up or that they should.
Even if you are someone who typically doesn't read or even really like non-fiction, I encourage you to give this one a try. Page after page is filled with stories that literally amaze you and stun you at the same time.
I could give a hundred examples, but to do the book justice I would just be reprinting the book here. So instead, I'll just give three and hopefully that will encourage you enough to buy it yourself.
1) North Koreans are not allowed to hang anything on the walls of their homes. Because every family is given a picture of the current leader to hang and nothing else is allowed to compete with that picture. In addition they are all given a special white cloth that is to be used for nothing other than cleaning the picture that they were given. Further, there are special police who come to your house for surprise inspections to make sure that the picture is hung. It is the only thing hung. And that it is completely spotless.
2) The North Koreans all believe that the Japanese and the Americans are evil and out to get them. They are brainwashed from birth and have no reason to believe otherwise. School begins every day with a lesson in communism, but the indoctrination doesn't end there. All of the lessons from reading to math also contain and reinforce these ideas. For instance the average math problem would never be what is 8-3? Instead it is "You are walking home with 8 apples. A Japanese soldier steals 3 of them. How many apples do you have left. Another example is that one of the most popular rhymes that small children sing as often as American children sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" is a song that talks about growing up to join the military so that you can kill lots of Americans.
3) The lack of food in North Korea is astounding. The average North Korean man is something like six inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart, simply because of malnutrition. When the one lady in the book defects to China, she sneaks into a building to hide for the night. There she sees a bowl of food full of rice, fish and other things sitting on the floor. It is more food than she has seen or eaten in months. Then when she hears growling, she realizes it is food left out for the dog.
The book was completely enthralling from the first page to the last. At a time when Kim Jong Un is threatening to attack at any moment, it is an interesting way to see what the average North Korean's life is like and to get a bit of a glimpse into the crazy mind of the men who have been leading their country down the road to ruin.
Nothing to Envy: A+