Without You, There Is No Us

Without You, There Is No Us

My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite

eBook - 2014
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Random House, Inc.
A haunting account of teaching English to the sons of North Korea's ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il's reign
Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has gone undercover as a missionary and a teacher. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them English, all under the watchful eye of the regime.

Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues—evangelical Christian missionaries who don't know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn't share their faith. As the weeks pass, she is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. At the same time, they offer Suki tantalizing glimpses of their private selves—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished. She in turn begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own—at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. But when Kim Jong-il dies, and the boys she has come to love appear devastated, she wonders whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.

Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world's most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls "soldiers and slaves."

Baker & Taylor
Traces the author's experiences as an English teacher to the sons of North Korea's elite during the last six months of Kim Jong Il's reign, an effort complicated by oppressive regime enforcers, propaganda, and evangelical missionaries.

& Taylor

The award-winning author of The Interpreter traces her experiences as an English teacher to the sons of North Korea's elite during the last six months of Kim Jong Il's reign, an effort complicated by oppressive regime enforcers, propaganda and evangelical missionaries. Simultaneous.

Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, 2014
ISBN: 9780307720672
Branch Call Number: eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


From the critics

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Sep 06, 2017

I selected this book because I had just read an article on this group of teachers and the PUST in a recent "Time" magazine. It does give you a picture of a small percentage of the N. Korea population(the elite) but for a better idea of the average persons' daily life read "The Girl with Seven Names Escape from North Korea" by Hyeonseo Lee. That book also gives you a perspective on China and it's relationship with North Korea. With everything going on between our country and NK and China I want to know more about these countries and their relationships.

Aug 16, 2017

Everything I have read about NK is from people who have escaped the country.

This book is written by someone who is experiencing NK as a teacher and will only be there for a limited time. It's difficult to imagine someone would go there voluntarily but in the time she spends with her students, she gives us a look into the daily lives of young people in NK and their blind obedience to their "dear leader".

Apr 26, 2017

Gives the readers an overview of what life in North Korea is. Brave writer! ❤️

Apr 02, 2017

I found this extemely interesting to understand life in North Korea. It takes place at a university for elite males. Amazing how sheltered from the outside they are and the propoganda that is fed to them. The things they believe about the outside world, and how they are taught to think of the americans and japanese as their enemies.
Also they are taught to believe that North Korea is so far advanced in technology compared to everywhere else.
They have Intranet but have no idea about Internet and the capabilities. Their whole life is programmed to work for the state and to adore Kim Jung Il.
It is told by a native South Korean now living in the US. She is a journalist who goes there to teach and risks being caught writing details of the life of the students while she is there.

Sep 21, 2016

Just finished the book written by Suki Kim. A very interesting book, I must say.
Kim, as a south Korea-born american journalist who passed as a Christian missionary teaching English in North Korea, had unique perspectives on North Korean society. Kim made it clear that she did not pretend to know the "real" North Korean society as she was not allowed to mingle with normal North Koreans and most of what she learned about it was through interactions with her students by earning their trusts.
As someone who lived in China through 1960s and 1970s, I thought I knew a bit about the current North Korean society as I also lived through periods where we had to watch what we said and what we did. At the darkest moments, some people even tried not to fall asleep lest they said something in their sleeps that could be used against them. However, even those darkest moments in China pales in comparison with what North Koreans are enduring now.
Another interesting parallel between China and North Korea was that by mid-1970s, Chinese people were generally disillusioned by the revolution as well as the communist party. People were still saying the right things in public, but the party's grip on the society was getting weaker and weaker. So I wonder why this did not happen in North Korea. Or maybe it's happening, but it's happening so slow that we just don't know.
Coming back to Kim's book, she describes the oppressive atmosphere that is usual in any authoritarian society, no surprise there. No surprise either on the poor lives of the people there. What should be kept in mind throughout this book is that she was teaching in a school for the privileged North Korean kids, and if the lives of these kids are this bad, imagine what lives of low ranked people would be!
Kim did mention that. a few times, her students blurted out some facts that they were not supposed to know considering how tightly controlled the information flow is in North Korea. So maybe the party's control is slowly eroding. What will this lead to is another question.
In her book, she also drew comparisons between North Korean party and its Great Leader to Christianity and Jesus. This may be upsetting to Christians, but I totally understand. When I moved from China to Europe and then to Canada, I was approached by many missionaries/Christian friends trying to convince me of the greatness of Christianity. I also said to them: look, I left China because I want to be free, I want to be able to think for myself and take my life into my own hands. I'm not going to trade one belief system for another one. What's the difference between studying Bible and studying the Mao's teachings? It's the same thing! Why the hell do I want to do this all over again?
Kim said that when she attended Sunday service held by missionaries in the school, she couldn't help but think that by swapping Jesus with the Great Leader/Dear Leader, you actually have the same thing. This is exactly what I said after going to a few church services and I'm glad that she pointed this out.
All in all, it's good book that is well written and very informative, offering a rare glimpse to a country that most of us do not know and, honestly, do not particularly care. I enjoyed reading it and would recommend others to do so too.

Sep 01, 2016

An interesting read in spite of the sometimes tedious prose.

But it's unfortunate that we westerners only see this one type of narrative when a writer references North Korea. Yes it's a shame that there is more corruption in N.K. than say, in Canada. But in a country who's population is about the same as Canada's, surely there must be other stories there.

sungeun2k1 Aug 20, 2016

"When I visited either of the two Koreas I always imagined that I was traveling back to my roots and would discover new truths about my past. Now it occurred to me that the past I was seeking had for many years been buried under and overtaken by American and Chinese influences. The Korea of my imagination existed only in paintings, history books, the memories of older generations, and in the remnants that I glimpsed, every now and then, like shards of glass poking out from the buried past."

Moments like these are the best parts of this book, where the author's personal history intersects with the history and context of her time in North Korea, which offers a specific perspective on the situation. I also appreciated and found validity in the parallels she drew between her students' unwavering devotion to the regime and her colleagues' unwavering devotion to their religion.

Mostly though, after reading this book, I'm left with the question: now what? We are already fully aware that North Korea is one of the worst human rights crises of our time, including the government's control over its citizens' free speech and access to information--this book pretty much just refreshes that picture. The story ends on a note of helplessness, which, though understandable, is the most frustrating thing about it.

PimaLib_MaryG Jan 15, 2016

North Korea has intrigued me ever since I visited South Korea in the '80s. This book opens a door into the secretive world that is North Korea today and to the world of secret evangelizers that are trying to plant seeds for future missionary work. Fascinating.

Apr 19, 2015

Very interesting. I have read a couple of other autobiographies by DPRK defectors, so this one just adds another dimension: the life of students. I liked the teacher's observations, even if she didn't really have a chance to see anything unscripted. I guess I was still kind of surprised that even students were paired and watched each other and had to attend those berating sessions. How can there be an entire country of people spying on each other? Very horrible.

Apr 12, 2015

I'm gonna disagree with the positive comments that are here.
American-based, South Korean-born Suki Kim spent time teaching in North Korea, one of the world's most oppressive, frightening, and close off countries. Since few Westerners (unless your Dennis Rodman) spend any time there, this is a fascinating subject and a rare opportunity. Alas, Kim is not a very good writer, with limited skill, insight, or nuance. More background on the Korean War and N. Korea's god-like tyrants would also have been helpful. Guy Delisle's graphic novel "Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea" is a far better look at the same subject.

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Mar 17, 2016

Remember you are one person to the world but to me you are the world.

Mar 17, 2016

You can't expect everything when you give nothing.

Mar 17, 2016

Sometimes the longer you are inside a prison, the harder it is to fathom what is possible beyond its walls.


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