The next thing I did was pick up one of those 'highly recommended' books on the country by Barbara Demick. The book is called Nothing to Envy and is pretty much regarded as the beginner's guide to North Korea. Never being a fan of non fiction, I was a bit sceptical initially. After all being fed on a steady diet of GRRM, Stephen King and their likes has its flaws. But Nothing to Envy turned out to be a page turner. It fails to fall in trap of being preachy and impersonal and comes up with something interesting.
Barbara Demick is a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times and her work over the years has led her to exotic places across the planet, most significantly, to North Korea. A country so secluded, even its population is a matter of guessing by the outside world. It's millions of citizens being constantly fed a steady diet of idealistic hard line communist propaganda, and the philosophy of 'Jucche' (loosely translated it means self-reliance) is quite astonishingly divided into a privileged class (read people who have sworn allegiance to the Worker's Party) and the impoverished. A class discrimination, as Demick says, only second to the one which was prevailing in India back in the day. Quite surprising, if course, since economic discrimination is the last thing you'd expect from a communist regime in full control of a country's political and economic landscape.
Unlike a commonly held perception, not everything Kim is associated with is evil. Kim Il-sung, the late Dear Marshall and the Eternal President, has a definite group of loyal 'authentic' followers. After the Japanese invasion of North Korea, it was he who instilled a sense of self pride and of course the philosophy of Jucche in the minds and hearts of North Koreans. Revered he was and probably still is by many North Koreans for taking socialism to whole new levels. In fact, so successful was the regime under him that in 1970, it was the North which was the prosperous of the two Koreas. Of course, after that, things went downhill. His death was followed by the rise of his son Kim Jong-il to the corridors of power and control. He assumed titles which registered him as quite frankly, the last word in North Korea. And then state sponsored propaganda was taken to a whole new level by that man they call 'Dear Leader'. So severe was the suppression of and crackdown on dissenters that even during the devastating famine of the late 90s (of which very little is known) no protesting voice was heard.
His passing away led to speculations all over the world regarding the stability and viability of the regime. Ending all those speculations, Kim jong-il's youngest son, Kim jong-un has assumed the role of the supreme leader of the country. Backed by the military and opportunistic party workers, his future seems pretty secure, at least for the time being.
Whether the onslaught of propaganda will finally force the people of North Korea into revolting against the state machinery may be a matter of speculation but we're heading into turbulent times as the last dictator of a nuclear weapons armed communist regime tries to re-emphasize its grip on its hunger stricken, grief ridden and frustrated populace.