Without You, There Is No Us

Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

    • 4.5 • 213 Ratings
    • $10.99
    • $10.99

Publisher Description

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."

October 14
Penguin Random House LLC

Customer Reviews

franks lady ,

Loved it!

I read the whole book within days and loved it! Great read!

4488662 ,

Parts OK

In the usual learned style of interspersing personal history into a story it felt more distracting than helpful. The use of lover describing her somewhat disinterested BF added nothing to the story. Her family's history also added nothing. However, the story about the school and students was interesting when the author's endless weeping moments were not revealed. I mean geez, she was only there a few months!

Bigjrun10k ,

Complex, multi-layered

I read the entire book in 2 days. I could not put it down. The book evokes numerous emotions and presents philosophical challenges from a variety of angles. It leaves a lasting impression on the reader and demands to be discussed, debated, and pondered. Thank you to the author for having the courage to live the experience and share it with others.

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