Author of New York Times bestseller Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite
In her New York Times bestseller Without You, There Is No Us Suki Kim chronicles the time she spent in 2011 teaching the sons of North Korea’s elite. Working in disguise as a Christian missionary, Kim spent her days at PUST locked in what she calls the school’s “prison disguised as a campus,” recording everything she experienced on USB sticks in secret. Her talks delve deep into the realities of her day-to-day life in North Korea, drawing from her experiences to reveal the realities of what it’s like to live in a world where everything is controlled, closely monitored, and centered on a single “Great Leader.” Kim had unprecedented access to a side of North Korean culture most foreigners never get to see, and her insights about the country’s culture are as urgent as they are unsettling. Withough You, There Is No Us has been praised by the New York Times Book Review, New York Review of Books, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and Foreign Policy, among others.
Undercover in North Korea
The title of Suki Kim’s most recent book comes from a song students at the Pyongyang State University of Science and Technology are required to sing three times a day, in praise of their country’s “Great Leader”: “Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us.” The book chronicles the six months Kim spent teaching English to 270 university students during the year of Kim Jong-Il’s death—a turbulent time in North Korea’s already troubled history. Kim gained an intimate familiarity with her students—and the longer she spent with them, the more she understood the total control the North Korean regime exerted over their lives; from keeping them under constant observation to forcing them to report on each other’s behavior erasing all traces of a world outside the country’s borders from their worldview. In this keynote, Kim offers an unprecedented and surprisingly moving look into the day-to-day machinations of North Korea’s totalitarian regime through the lens of her own remarkable experiences.
Without You, There Is No Us
A haunting memoir 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 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 accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, 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. She is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. To them, everything in North Korea is the best, the tallest, the most delicious, the envy of all nations. Still, she cannot help but love them—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished.
As the weeks pass, she 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. The students in turn offer Suki tantalizing glimpses into their lives, from their thoughts on how to impress girls to their disappointment that soccer games are only televised when the North Korean team wins. Then Kim Jong-il dies, leaving the students devastated, and leading Suki to question 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."
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