The Two Koreas

Yes, as you can guess, in this post I am talking about the two Koreas, the North and South Korea. I am actually talking about Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick and The New Korea: An Inside Look at South Korea’s Economic Rise by Myung Oak Kim and Sam Jaffe.

Nothing To Envy  Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Image courtesy of Amazon

I read Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea few months before I flew to South Korea for a summer school. My English teacher lent me his book and surprisingly it was a very good story about the secretive North Korea! I shouldn’t be that surprised because this book was awarded the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and was also a finalist for the National Book Award in 2010. Few pages after the author’s note, I drifted by the romance story of young Mi-ran and her boyfriend Jun-sang while these love birds were living on the outskirts of Chongjin, one of the industrial cities not far from the border with Russia. The first chapter of this book really fed my appetite to keep on reading until the very last page. Furthermore, if you stroll along the pages, perhaps you would be astonished by the ability of government to instil the idea of juche (self-reliance) with reserved red letters propaganda signs scattered ubiquitously that was translated into, “Long live Kim Il-Sung. Kim Jong-Il, sun of the 21st century. Let’s live our own way. We will do as the party tells us. We have nothing to envy in the world.” I like this book as it gives us deep understanding about the lives of North Koreans, including the violence happened on the labour camps. It seemed that Demick didn’t let the sorrow ended, the last few pages written were about the sweet-turned-sour reunion of Mi-ran and her lover years after she defected from North Korea.

Image courtesy of Amazon
Image courtesy of Amazon

Stark contrast with the lives of millions North Koreans, the fellow South Koreans live in a free yet modern world. They live really like normal people in the other parts of the world amid the continuous nuclear threats from their neighbour. I didn’t encounter horrible stories about chronic famine or awful labour camps here in The New Korea: An Inside Look at South Korea’s Economic Rise. In the first part of the book, Kim and Jaffe introduced readers to the long journey of (united then separated) Korea(s). The next pages full of miraculous economic growth of South Korea followed by the stories of worldwide well-known Korean chaebol. The most interesting part of the book is the stories of Korean society in which I eventually got much idea of Korean lifestyle. This book is simply light and handy guide to understand pretty much everything about South Korea. But if you feel the need to know more about Korea is still going strong, there are several books that can satisfy your curiosity. As examples, you can refer to Korea: The Impossible Country or The Korean Mind: Understanding Contemporary Korean Culture to get understanding about Korean general affair. If your interest is specific to business, I think you would enjoy Samsung Electronics and the Struggle for Leadership of the Electronics Industry or more recent version of it in The Samsung Way: Transformational Management Strategies from the World Leader in Innovation and Design (different authors with the previously mentioned title).

So, have you decided on which books to read first? 🙂