My secret life teaching the sons of North Korea’s elite
Hardly any authoritative books exist about North Korea, which have been written by outsiders who have actually lived inside the country. This one sheds revealing new light on this fascinating, extraordinary nation, which is so much in the news.
It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, except for the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This is where Suki Kim has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.
Life at the university is lonely and claustrophobic. Her letters are read by censors and she must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but also from her colleagues, evangelical Christian missionaries, whose faith she does not share.
As the weeks pass she discovers how easily her students lie, and how total is their obedience to Kim Jong-il. She also, bravely, hints at the existence of a world beyond their own: the internet, free travel, democracy, and other ideas forbidden in a country where torture and execution are commonplace. Yet her pupils are also full of boyish enthusiasm, with flashes of curiosity not yet extinguished.
Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life inside the world's most inscrutable country.
“Strangely terrifying...A beautifully written book that greatly expands the limited bounds of what we know about North Korea's ruling class”
Barbara Demick, author of Nothing To Envy
“This superb work of investigative journalism is distinguished by its grave beauty and aching tenderness.”
Kiran Desai, author of The Inheritance of Loss
“A rare and revealing insight into the world of this closed nation's "priviligentsia", a sector of society about which very little information is available.”
The Times Online
“(Suki Kim) lived under constant surveillance, fearful that she might slip up.”
“A glimpse into the North Korean mind.”
Francis Wheen, Mail on Sunday