I recently finished the book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. I picked this one up because #20 on my 30 Before 30 list was to read a book on each of the following places: China, North Korea, Iran and Africa (on all of it or on any specific country). I realized that even after having obtained a MA in International Affairs, I still had gaps in knowledge about certain parts of the world and I wanted to do something about it. I saw this book recommended in several places, so I knew this would be the one I read on North Korea.
Demick follows the lives of six North Korean defectors. She uses these stories to portray what life has been like in North Korea under a repressive regime. Starvation, black outs and fear of being sent to labor camps for any infraction permeate daily life. Propaganda in support of the regime knows no bounds. This review of the book gives a great summary. I particularly like the remark that Demick "does not tell, she shows." Most of the defectors ended up in South Korea (either directly or by way of China). The comparison between what modern day life is like in the two countries is heartbreaking.
I confess to having been largely ignorant of the situation in North Korea before reading this book, other than having read Somewhere Inside by Laura and Lisa Ling, which is what initially sparked my interest in learning more. Nothing to Envy was both intriguing and horrifying. I gasped out loud at certain sections. I highly recommend it since it is written in an easy to read and interesting manner but packs in a ton of information.