Suki Kim's North Korean insightful masterpiece

I felt like I was there.

The cold seeped into my bones as I read about frigid nights bundled under too many blankets.

Fear invaded my heart at the idea that I was being watched every second of every day, every email, blog post, communication monitored.

It was as if I, too was walking the frozen walkways of PUST, the English-language university just outside of Pyongyang where journalist and writer Suki Kim spent six months teaching the "creme de la creme" of North Korean students.


I'm talking about the immersive writing in Kim's 2015 investigative reporting memoir, WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US, about the time she spent as an writer pretending to be a missionary pretending to be nothing more than an English teacher in the elusive regime that, in recent days, has infiltrated American news with fight and American people with fear.

We've all heard the stories about North Korea amping up its missile testing; we've probably either seen or read about the tweets sent by our president in reaction to said missile tests; and a lot of people are wondering what it means.

It reignited, in me at least, a curiosity about this regime. 

I'm fascinated by the idea of North Korea; that there exists a country out there that is closed-off from the rest of our increasingly global world? That they hate Americans—me—and are groomed to do so by their government? That apparently you can (but probably shouldn't) visit, but only on state-sponsored, highly controlled trips? It's a mystery and an enigma.

I bought my copy of Kim's book in part as a reaction to a controversy it sparked; there are those who decry her description of the book as investigative journalism because it has such a strong memoirist element. I read an article Kim had written in defense, and being a woman who finds investigative reporting and memoir equally intriguing, I thought a combination of the two would be simply entrancing.

I wasn't wrong.

The book gripped me, nearly from the first page. Kim does an excellent job of placing the reader right there with her in the narrative, to the point where I began to feel affection for the young men she taught in the same motherly way she did.

And it's timely, now more than ever as headlines are nearly constantly filled with news about the reclusive country in the north of the Korean Peninsula.

If you're interested in North Korea or in politics or in good books written with a strong narrative, I would have to recommend you buy this book. It's well worth it.