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Suki Kim

Without You, There Is No Us : Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

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<b>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</b> <p></p> Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: <i>Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us.</i> 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. <p></p>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. <p></p> <i> Without You, There Is No Us</i> offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world's most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls &quot;soldiers and slaves.&quot;

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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."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."

Specifications

Publisher
Crown
Book Format
Paperback
Original Languages
English
Number of Pages
320
Author
Suki Kim
Title
Without You, There Is No Us
ISBN-13
9780307720665
Publication Date
October, 2015
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
8.00 x 5.17 x 0.69 Inches
ISBN-10
0307720667

Customer reviews & ratings

Average Rating:(3.9)out of 5 stars
5 stars
11
4 stars
28
3 stars
12
2 stars
1
1 star
0
Most helpful positive review
3 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars
North Korea is a count...
North Korea is a country that seems to be modeled on George Orwelll's 1984. That makes is scary, weird and somehow fascinating. The isolation imposed by the Kim Jong-Il regime makes it hard to get a fix on just how dysfunctional and repressive the country is. [[Suki Kim]]'s book gives unique view of North Korean life. Kim was born in South Korea, and moved to the US with her family at age 13. She is a novelist and journalist. She was hired to teach English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's Elite, and taught there for two semester in 2011, right before the death of Kim Jong-Il. Kim's writing is lovely; this is one of the better works of narrative non-fiction that I have read. Kim's position as an outsider, but as a Korean, gives an interesting perspective. The censorship and repression is detailed: teachers all had "minders" to make sure that they followed the rules, their excursions outside of the school were few, and carefully monitored, and they were limited in what they could say to students. Kim also talks about the effect that living in this kind of fear and repression had on her, and on her students. Her students seem both innocent and devious. The North Korean students knew so little of the outside world. Even though they were technology students, they did not know about the internet. And the littlest things were minefields that Kim had to tiptoe around when teaching her students. For example; all of the students were passionate about sports, and curious about the NBA, even thought the only player they knew was Michael Jordan. A asked who was the best player now? Kim said that it was LeBron James, but then worried that it was too much, changed the subject to tennis. She talked about seeing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play at the US Open a few years previously. The students were surprised that she had seen the players in person, and Kim wasn't sure that they believed her. Kim was concerned, because they weren't supposed to say anything that could be construed as bragging about the US, but she wanted them to know that in the US, it was normal to go to sporting events.
Most helpful negative review
Average Rating:(2.0)out of 5 stars
What a wonderfully rar...
What a wonderfully rare first-hand account of life in North Korea. What's scary is that even though Suki Kim's teacher group worked in an austere environment, with limited communication, always under guarded watch, etc. this is all within the world of the elite's children. How bad must it be for the commoner? Suki Kim is part of a small univeristy-level group of teachers that get to help the children of the top 1% of Korea better understand the West. Kim and crew use everything from scavenger hunts, essay classes to Harry Potter to try and educate these kids. The whole time the author is living in fear because she is hiding USB drives of all her notes, etc. as she is there planning to write this book. If the North Koreans find out then they either kick her out or simply make her disappear for being "a spy". While I really enjoyed following Kim on the supervised excursions outside of PUST and her growing realization of what life in North Korea is like. Much ink was spent on her longings for "lovers" back home. So the book lacked the laser focus on North Korea that I was looking for. I also wish that they book was about 100 pages longer. Kim does a good job exploring her feelings and attitudes for her North Korean students, I just wish Kim possessed the same compassion for the other teachers in her group. She seems open to exploring and supporting every relationship in her life except those she's living with over there. It's a shame to have missed those opportunities as, again, many pages was spent explaining these 'missionaries' and 'teachers'. Maybe if Kim had more pages she could share more. Of course, in the Author Notes, the author states she knows all of her compatriots will be mad at her for deceiving them and writing the book. It feels like she went through the whole North Korea experience with this chip of knowledge on her shoulder. So maybe she couldn't have better relationships with those around her. I'm giving this book 2/5 stars and recommend it to folks looking for a glimpse of what is going on in North Korea.
Most helpful positive review
3 customers found this helpful
Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars
North Korea is a count...
North Korea is a country that seems to be modeled on George Orwelll's 1984. That makes is scary, weird and somehow fascinating. The isolation imposed by the Kim Jong-Il regime makes it hard to get a fix on just how dysfunctional and repressive the country is. [[Suki Kim]]'s book gives unique view of North Korean life. Kim was born in South Korea, and moved to the US with her family at age 13. She is a novelist and journalist. She was hired to teach English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's Elite, and taught there for two semester in 2011, right before the death of Kim Jong-Il. Kim's writing is lovely; this is one of the better works of narrative non-fiction that I have read. Kim's position as an outsider, but as a Korean, gives an interesting perspective. The censorship and repression is detailed: teachers all had "minders" to make sure that they followed the rules, their excursions outside of the school were few, and carefully monitored, and they were limited in what they could say to students. Kim also talks about the effect that living in this kind of fear and repression had on her, and on her students. Her students seem both innocent and devious. The North Korean students knew so little of the outside world. Even though they were technology students, they did not know about the internet. And the littlest things were minefields that Kim had to tiptoe around when teaching her students. For example; all of the students were passionate about sports, and curious about the NBA, even thought the only player they knew was Michael Jordan. A asked who was the best player now? Kim said that it was LeBron James, but then worried that it was too much, changed the subject to tennis. She talked about seeing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play at the US Open a few years previously. The students were surprised that she had seen the players in person, and Kim wasn't sure that they believed her. Kim was concerned, because they weren't supposed to say anything that could be construed as bragging about the US, but she wanted them to know that in the US, it was normal to go to sporting events.
Most helpful negative review
Average Rating:(2.0)out of 5 stars
What a wonderfully rar...
What a wonderfully rare first-hand account of life in North Korea. What's scary is that even though Suki Kim's teacher group worked in an austere environment, with limited communication, always under guarded watch, etc. this is all within the world of the elite's children. How bad must it be for the commoner? Suki Kim is part of a small univeristy-level group of teachers that get to help the children of the top 1% of Korea better understand the West. Kim and crew use everything from scavenger hunts, essay classes to Harry Potter to try and educate these kids. The whole time the author is living in fear because she is hiding USB drives of all her notes, etc. as she is there planning to write this book. If the North Koreans find out then they either kick her out or simply make her disappear for being "a spy". While I really enjoyed following Kim on the supervised excursions outside of PUST and her growing realization of what life in North Korea is like. Much ink was spent on her longings for "lovers" back home. So the book lacked the laser focus on North Korea that I was looking for. I also wish that they book was about 100 pages longer. Kim does a good job exploring her feelings and attitudes for her North Korean students, I just wish Kim possessed the same compassion for the other teachers in her group. She seems open to exploring and supporting every relationship in her life except those she's living with over there. It's a shame to have missed those opportunities as, again, many pages was spent explaining these 'missionaries' and 'teachers'. Maybe if Kim had more pages she could share more. Of course, in the Author Notes, the author states she knows all of her compatriots will be mad at her for deceiving them and writing the book. It feels like she went through the whole North Korea experience with this chip of knowledge on her shoulder. So maybe she couldn't have better relationships with those around her. I'm giving this book 2/5 stars and recommend it to folks looking for a glimpse of what is going on in North Korea.
North Korea is a country that seems to be modeled on George Orwelll's 1984. That makes is scary, weird and somehow fascinating. The isolation imposed by the Kim Jong-Il regime makes it hard to get a fix on just how dysfunctional and repressive the country is. [[Suki Kim]]'s book gives unique view of North Korean life. Kim was born in South Korea, and moved to the US with her family at age 13. She is a novelist and journalist. She was hired to teach English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's Elite, and taught there for two semester in 2011, right before the death of Kim Jong-Il. Kim's writing is lovely; this is one of the better works of narrative non-fiction that I have read. Kim's position as an outsider, but as a Korean, gives an interesting perspective. The censorship and repression is detailed: teachers all had "minders" to make sure that they followed the rules, their excursions outside of the school were few, and carefully monitored, and they were limited in what they could say to students. Kim also talks about the effect that living in this kind of fear and repression had on her, and on her students. Her students seem both innocent and devious. The North Korean students knew so little of the outside world. Even though they were technology students, they did not know about the internet. And the littlest things were minefields that Kim had to tiptoe around when teaching her students. For example; all of the students were passionate about sports, and curious about the NBA, even thought the only player they knew was Michael Jordan. A asked who was the best player now? Kim said that it was LeBron James, but then worried that it was too much, changed the subject to tennis. She talked about seeing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play at the US Open a few years previously. The students were surprised that she had seen the players in person, and Kim wasn't sure that they believed her. Kim was concerned, because they weren't supposed to say anything that could be construed as bragging about the US, but she wanted them to know that in the US, it was normal to go to sporting events.
What a wonderfully rare first-hand account of life in North Korea. What's scary is that even though Suki Kim's teacher group worked in an austere environment, with limited communication, always under guarded watch, etc. this is all within the world of the elite's children. How bad must it be for the commoner? Suki Kim is part of a small univeristy-level group of teachers that get to help the children of the top 1% of Korea better understand the West. Kim and crew use everything from scavenger hunts, essay classes to Harry Potter to try and educate these kids. The whole time the author is living in fear because she is hiding USB drives of all her notes, etc. as she is there planning to write this book. If the North Koreans find out then they either kick her out or simply make her disappear for being "a spy". While I really enjoyed following Kim on the supervised excursions outside of PUST and her growing realization of what life in North Korea is like. Much ink was spent on her longings for "lovers" back home. So the book lacked the laser focus on North Korea that I was looking for. I also wish that they book was about 100 pages longer. Kim does a good job exploring her feelings and attitudes for her North Korean students, I just wish Kim possessed the same compassion for the other teachers in her group. She seems open to exploring and supporting every relationship in her life except those she's living with over there. It's a shame to have missed those opportunities as, again, many pages was spent explaining these 'missionaries' and 'teachers'. Maybe if Kim had more pages she could share more. Of course, in the Author Notes, the author states she knows all of her compatriots will be mad at her for deceiving them and writing the book. It feels like she went through the whole North Korea experience with this chip of knowledge on her shoulder. So maybe she couldn't have better relationships with those around her. I'm giving this book 2/5 stars and recommend it to folks looking for a glimpse of what is going on in North Korea.

Frequent mentions

1-5 of 52 reviews
Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

North Korea is a count...

North Korea is a country that seems to be modeled on George Orwelll's 1984. That makes is scary, weird and somehow fascinating. The isolation imposed by the Kim Jong-Il regime makes it hard to get a fix on just how dysfunctional and repressive the country is. [[Suki Kim]]'s book gives unique view of North Korean life. Kim was born in South Korea, and moved to the US with her family at age 13. She is a novelist and journalist. She was hired to teach English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's Elite, and taught there for two semester in 2011, right before the death of Kim Jong-Il. Kim's writing is lovely; this is one of the better works of narrative non-fiction that I have read. Kim's position as an outsider, but as a Korean, gives an interesting perspective. The censorship and repression is detailed: teachers all had "minders" to make sure that they followed the rules, their excursions outside of the school were few, and carefully monitored, and they were limited in what they could say to students. Kim also talks about the effect that living in this kind of fear and repression had on her, and on her students. Her students seem both innocent and devious. The North Korean students knew so little of the outside world. Even though they were technology students, they did not know about the internet. And the littlest things were minefields that Kim had to tiptoe around when teaching her students. For example; all of the students were passionate about sports, and curious about the NBA, even thought the only player they knew was Michael Jordan. A asked who was the best player now? Kim said that it was LeBron James, but then worried that it was too much, changed the subject to tennis. She talked about seeing Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play at the US Open a few years previously. The students were surprised that she had seen the players in person, and Kim wasn't sure that they believed her. Kim was concerned, because they weren't supposed to say anything that could be construed as bragging about the US, but she wanted them to know that in the US, it was normal to go to sporting events.

Helpful?
Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

Somehow Kim managed t...

Somehow Kim managed to get accepted to teach at an evangelical North Korean university, the only university open in 2011. She was a journalist, and secretly kept notes about her time there. It was a fascinating glimpse of the claustrophobic world dominated by praises of Kim Jong Il, from the perspective of someone who grew up in South Korea - so close and yet so far. The feeling of always being watched, having to be careful what one says, the prison-like conditions - so well documented. It struck me, though, that the evangelicals and the North Koreans may have been less far apart than Kim, who alwas neither a Christian or an evangelical. Her world view was more open, and thus more objective.

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Average Rating:(5.0)out of 5 stars

I have read several no...

I have read several nonfiction books about North Korea. What makes this book different is that it isn't focused on the poorest or most destitute of North Korea's citizens; rather, the focus is on the more elite. What is completely incredible is how terrible the lives are of even these individuals. They aren't starving like the rest of the country, but their resources are still severely limited and their access to information about anything outside of North Korea is nearly nonexistent. The author is a compassionate soul and treats her subjects with kindness. This was an engaging read, particularly for anyone interested in human rights issues. As other reviewers have noted, it is important to have a basic understanding of the situation for North Korean citizens prior to reading this book because the book assumes that you know this and doesn't explain the political or social climate there. She focuses more on the day-to-day workings of the university where she taught.

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Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

Six-word review: Glim...

Six-word review: Glimpse of higher education in North Korea. Extended review: Every book I read and every documentary I see on North Korean society and politics adds something to my awareness (I can't say "understanding"--how can Westerners understand it?) of the so-called hermit nation that is now, with Kim Jong Un, in its third generation of dynastic dictatorship. This book is unique in that it was written by an American who interacted directly with young people in the role of instructor and hence of authority. Kim, a journalist, served two terms as a visiting teacher of English in an elite Pyongyang university for the sons of the ruling class--a cover she adopted specifically to obtain this sort of insider's access to students and the system. As such, she was inducted--in a very small, limited way--into the suffocating system of rules, restrictions, and prohibitions that control those who teach the country's future leaders. There is apparently nothing like freedom for anyone anywhere in this isolated society, to judge by all accounts. Born in South Korea and raised in the U.S., Suki Kim speaks the language and shares the ethnicity of her students and their administrators, so she was in a position to gain first-hand knowledge usually inaccessible to Western visitors. New to me and especially touching were the accounts of students who embraced the privilege of standing guard throughout long, freezing nights outside the campus study hall dedicated to the philosophy of their Dear Leader. One great vulnerability in this staggeringly paranoid political system, or so it appears to me, is the Internet. Students, even students at this highly selective technical college in the capital, have no idea what the Internet is or how it opens up the outside world. They think their little intranet is it. But a chosen few must perforce be admitted into the secret knowledge of the real web in all its vast chaotic magnificence in order to perform service on it for their country. Once they've seen it, they can't unsee it. The pressure of constant monitoring, the seeming arbitrariness of unexplained prohibitions, the ceaseless tattling, and the unimaginably impaired and distorted view of the world beyond the isolated nation's borders make it impossible for author Kim or anyone else to draw an easy breath. Somehow Kim pulls off her charade and manages to depart the country with extensive notes on which she based her book. She will never be welcomed back.

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Average Rating:(4.0)out of 5 stars

The ruling Kim clan (n...

The ruling Kim clan (no relation the author) has created a monster, mostly to itself. The people of North Korea are so isolated they have no idea about anything outside their country, and enormously little about what goes on in it. By breaking down the family unit, they have destroyed links, safety nets, support and community. Everyone reports on everyone else. Minders, monitors and counterparts are everywhere. All have the power to denounce. New buildings are designed to be transparent; there is little or nothing in the way of privacy possible. Permission is necessary to go anywhere. Roads are so empty, rurals sit on them as outdoor gathering places. Individuals are totally controlled. They are told where they will study, who they will be friends with and what they will do, all day every day. This is the North Korea into which Kim Suki taught English to elite students (of wealthy, powerful parents). There is a dreary, grinding sameness to the days. Choices are essentially zero. She had to be careful of every word she spoke, because no one is allowed to know what life is like anywhere else. Teachers had to ensure they didn't sit with the same students in the cafeteria as it would arouse suspicions. Her all male, mid twenties students were as teens are in the USA, champing at the bit to see a Harry Potter film, pining for parents who were not permitted to see them (assuming they could even find them), and feeling totally constricted in what should be the most creative, productive, chance-taking parts of their lives. Instead, it is a life of the military drudgery: long pointless hours guarding empty halls, being reassigned to new "buddies" (totally abandoning the old ones) and boring, minimal food. The internet is of course off limits, so even these students had no way to research their specialty - technology. Instead they have an offline intranet, as useless as it sounds. The concept of phoning anywhere in the world on Skype - pure fantasy, not even worth believing. They are constantly preparing for war. They are taught to want to kill all foreigners. The draft is ten years for men, seven for women. Propsects outside the army are even bleaker. It is all the more intense because the author didn't just visit, she lived it with them. She kept her notes on USB sticks, never allowing her thoughts to remain on a hard drive that might be left unattended. She had to be careful about the other teachers as well, mostly Protestant fundamentalist missionaries. It gets to her, and she cries often. The lack of human contact, let alone compassion, keeps the tension level absurdly high. In the end, some human connections were made, tentatively, under the cover of creative writing assignments. But that was all. The book is as powerful an indictment of North Korea as any ever written, despite (or perhaps because of) its total lack of access to the power brokers and decision makers. There is no talk of politics or philosophy. Juche is a fact of life, period. This is real life in North Korea, where paranoia is mainstream.

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