AS 91475

The most effective villain is one who both attracts and repels.

“If you look at satellite photos of the Far East by night, you’ll see a large splotch curiously lacking in light. This is the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.” So begins the semi-fictionalised novel Nothing to Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea, set in North Korea during the period of the Arduous March (the extreme famine of the 1990s). It follows the stories of six North Korean defectors, told to author and journalist Barbara Demick when she was living in South Korea and working as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Demick interviewed almost a hundred defectors, and from these, crafted a realistic window into the almost unimaginable world they once inhabited. The villains of this world are, of course, the Kim dynasty: Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. North Korea’s per capita GDP is around $1,000 (1/28th that of South Korea), and it is the 213th poorest country in the world (out of 230 total), but instead of spending what little they have on trying to help their starving people, the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea make bigger and better bombs. Despite this, no bad word is spoken about the leaders inside the North Korean borders. If a citizen does slip up, they will be harshly punished – even killed.

But we can only see this easily because we live outside of North Korea’s strictly controlled borders. Within them, things are never so black and white. The Kim dynasty, just as Mao and Stalin and Hitler did before them, have gathered a cult of personality around them so strong, they are generally revered as gods.

  1. Mrs Song and the attraction of the Kim Dynasty
  2. Oak-hee and the repulsion of the Kim Dynasty

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Writing