Without you, there is no us My time with the sons of North Korea's elite

Suki Kim, 1970-

Book - 2014

"A ... memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea's ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il's reign"--Amazon.com

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2nd Floor 951.93/Kim Checked In
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New York : Crown Publishers [2014]
First edition
Physical Description
291 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm
Main Author
Suki Kim, 1970- (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* For several years, Korean American writer Kim (The Interpreter, 2003) tried unsuccessfully to find a way to live in North Korea. She had interviewed defectors and traveled to North Korea as an international journalist, but she wanted to learn about the experience of everyday North Koreans—something the government generally doesn't want outsiders to see. In 2011, she got her chance. By pretending to be a Christian missionary, she was able to get a job teaching at a special internationally funded school for the adolescent sons of high-ranking officials. There, in underheated classrooms and over shared cafeteria meals, she taught her students preapproved English words and did her best to answer their questions about the outside world without telling them about anything forbidden, like the fact that the North Korean soccer team was not the world champion or what they called the "Internet" was in reality just a tiny and heavily censored local area network. Her students were complicated—variously sweet and cruel, endearing and chronically dishonest—but they were still just boys, and Kim begins to care for them. If they were not exactly everyday North Koreans—as the sons of elite men, they were well fed and even had cell phones—they offered Kim a glimpse at something even more elusive: the future leaders of the country, in their developing years. Eventually, worn down by loneliness and the bleak Pyongyang winter, Kim seizes the opportunity to nudge her students toward subversive independent thought, with the help of a Harry Potter DVD. The result is a rare and nuanced look at North Korean culture, and an uncommon addition to the "inspirational-teacher" genre. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Kim (The Interpreter) spent much of 2011 teaching English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), North Korea's first privately funded university. She left the country in December 2011, one day after Kim Jong-Il's death was announced. During her time in North Korea, Pyongyang University was the only operating institute of higher education, as students from all other universities were dismissed to work on various construction projects. For unknown reasons, the elite students of Pyongyang were spared from this mandate. As Kim explains, her real purpose for being in North Korea was to gather material for writing this self-reflective work, leading her to hide her true intentions from both North Korean officials and the Christian missionaries who ran the school. The result is a touching portrayal of the student experience in North Korea, which provides readers with a rare glimpse of life in the enigmatic country. Kim describes a regimented system that is designed to make personal space, and even thoughts, impossible for learners and faculty alike. VERDICT This well-written and thoroughly captivating book is highly recommended for anyone looking to grasp a better understanding of North Korea. [See Prepub Alert, 5/4/14.]—Joshua Wallace, Ranger Coll., TX [Page 91]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this extraordinary and troubling portrait of life under severe repression, South Korean–born Kim, who emigrated with her family to America when she was 13 years old, chronicles the two semesters she spent teaching English to North Korean teens at a Christian missionary school in Pyongyang. Having visited the highly closed and secretive state as part of various official American and journalist delegations starting in 2002, Kim jumped at the chance to live and teach at the newly opened Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). "North Korea," she writes, "has become a siren for the hankering mind," and, despite some critical articles she had published and her work as a novelist (The Interpreter), she was accepted at PUST, a boarding school for the country's male elite. Her earnest, obedient students elicited a warmly maternal, protective feeling in her, despite their ignorance of the outside world, their empty boasting of their country's achievements, and the easy way they lived outright. The missionary teachers were never allowed outside of the compound without a group escort and were aware of constant surveillance; although they were provided access to the Internet, their students' access was severely censored. While Kim hoped somehow to open their minds and insisted on honesty (playing Truth or Lie, for example), she was knowingly betraying the school and the teachers by writing her secret account and passing herself off as a missionary. Her account is both perplexing and deeply stirring. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

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. 40,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

In this memoir, journalist and novelist Kim, who grew up in South Korea in the 1970s, reveals her experiences teaching English at an isolated, elite, all-male university in North Korea in 2011. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) is run by strict Christian missionaries, and Kim must hide the fact that she is a non-believer. Her letters home are censored by government authorities, and there is limited telephone and email contact. The students, blindly obedient to authority, have never used the Internet and are not allowed to travel outside of Pyongyang. Kim risks her job and possibly her students’ lives when she tries to give them glimpses of the world outside of North Korea. Their predictable world is thrown into crisis with the death of the country’s leader Kim Jong-il. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea's ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il's reignEvery 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 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 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."