Books of 2015, #16: Without You There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, Suki Kim

This was a Daily Show pickup. Totalitarian regimes have always fascinated me—too much reading about the Russian Revolution while acquiring my Political Science degree, I guess.

The setup is simple: Korean-American woman talks her way into the faculty of a college set up and run in North Korea by an Evangelical church in order to (covertly) observe and report. After roughly 9 months—a summer term and a fall term—she can’t take it any more.

I have observed that many people I know who lived through abusive childhoods have a sometimes slippery relationship with truth. Not so much about objective facts—though sometimes that’s an issue—but more about their relationship with the world and how they feel. I assume it’s a habit deeply ingrained, from a time when they needed to present a certain impression even as their lives were full of abuse.

Imagine a whole country that is driven relentlessly to that sort of behavior—that is so xenophobic and isolated that it can almost, but not quite, be made to work; so the mask slips only occasionally.

The book is well written, and absolutely bleak as fuck. There is not a smidgen of suggestion that things are going to get better any time soon. I appreciate the honesty and forthrightness that represents, but it doesn’t make for happy reading.