North Korea is a dark spot on a nighttime map. It is Big Brother incarnate, the squatting enemy in its fortress, and by and large, a total mystery. The constant flow of news has become monotonous and unreliable. In truth, we have little idea of what the country is really like on the inside, beyond the yellow tape where it tours its journalists and visitors to areas of wealth, prosperity and “happiness.”
Suki Kim’s memoir “Without You, There Is No Us,” is the one of the closest looks we have gotten to peeking behind the yellow tape. The story is about her time as an English teacher in a school for North Korea’s wealthiest children. The school was built, funded and staffed by Evangelical Christians, and Kim, in a sense, snuck her way inside. As a non-Christian and well-known writer on North Korean issues in the U.S., she spent her time in double-undercover, sneaking notes onto a USB drive that she kept around her neck at all times.
Kim’s struggle to reconcile her wish to enlighten her students to the goodness of the outside world, and her wish for them to remain ignorant and loyal to the regime, and therefore safe, is heartbreaking. Even for someone like me, who has lived in South Korea, visited the North Korean border, and learned a lot about the country’s history and regime, it was still surprising to learn how deeply and successfully North Korea has built itself on lies. No matter what you know about this country, there will be something inside this book to open your eyes and make you think.
Although at times Kim’s musings about her own dilemmas of missing home seemed melodramatic, I still highly recommend this book to everyone.