Suki Kim’s fascinating memoir, “Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite”, takes us through the author’s year spent in North Korea as an English teacher in 2011. Kim is a journalist who was interested in learning more about life in North Korea. She gets a job at a brand new evangelical Christian school, designed to teach the sons of the North Korean elite.
Kim is not an evangelical Christian, so she is constantly worried that the other teachers at the school will discover her secret. She is also writing a memoir about her experiences there and that is also forbidden. Kim lives in constant fear of being caught — she knows that every letter to her is opened, and every email is read. She is told that there are listening devices in her room. Kim is not allowed to leave the school’s campus without an official escort. Furthermore, it’s difficult to teach North Korean students English when your curriculum is so heavily censored. There are deep cultural divides. For instance, the students have a very difficult time writing an essay because the concept of comparing different viewpoints is completely foreign to them.
Kim also has the distinction of being the only teacher at the school who is of Korean heritage. Although she was born in the United States, her family is from South Korea. Kim speaks Korean fluently, and because of this, she develops a unique relationship with her students. She is both the enemy because she is from South Korea and from America, but she is also a friend because she can speak Korean. It’s an odd duality that she has to live with the entire time she’s there. Some of the students seem to despise and mistrust her, but many of them form deep bonds of friendship. This book is a fast and easy read, and offers a different and interesting glimpse into the way of life in North Korea.
You can place a hold on the book in the Deerfield Public Library catalog (www.deerfieldlibrary.org) right now. If you have to wait, be sure to check out “You Might Also Like These…” at the bottom of the catalog page.
This review was previously published by the Deerfield Review.