In 2011, Suki Kim took a job teaching English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the only university in North Korea run by foreigners — and the only university open that year, as all other college students had been pulled from their studies to work construction. Working undercover, she teaches the bright, inquisitive sons of the country’s elites who, despite being the most privileged young people in the nation, still live without basic freedoms, amenities, and information. As she spends more time with her classes, she gains insights into the daily lives of North Koreans and tries to subtly reveal to them the realities of the world outside their borders.
“We accepted our situation meekly. How quickly we became prisoners, how quickly we gave up our freedom, how quickly we tolerated the loss of that freedom, like a child being abused, in silence. In this world, there were no individual demands, and asking permission for everything was infantilizing. So we began to understand our students, who had never been able to do anything on their own. The notion of following your heart’s desire, of going wherever you chose, did not exist here, and I did not see any way to let them know what it felt like, especially since, after so little time in their system, I had lost my own sense of freedom.”
Suki Kim is the author of the 2003 novel The Interpreter and the 2014 memoir Without You, There Is No Us. Her writing has appeared in New York Times, Harper’s, and the New York Review of Books. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, she now lives in New York.
Length: 304 pages
Set in: North Korea
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