Barbara Demick speaks at Kennedy Center

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The Kennedy Center’s first spring/summer book of the semester tells the stories of six North Koreans who fled from North to South Korea.

The book, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary lives in North Korea,” was written by Barbara Demick. At the time she wrote the book, Demick was a Korean correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

Every fall and winter, the Kennedy Center selects a book they feel will be interesting to students across campus. The author is invited to speak and all those who are interested in the book or the author are invited to listen. This is the first summer the a book has been selected, and Demick will be speaking to students July 19 at 11 a.m. in the Harold R. Clark Building.

Jeff Ringer, director of the Kennedy Center said the book is a good fit for all students.

“We would like to encourage students, whatever their background or interest in this area, to broaden their education by sitting in on the lecture and reading the book,” Ringer said.

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The BYU bookstore is supporting the book of the semester with a reduced price on the book.
Cory Leonard, an assistant director of the Kennedy Center, said that there are many ways for students to broaden their global perspective, including internships and study abroads, but all students can participate in the book of the semester. Ringer also said participating in the book of the semester will help students’ global understanding.

“One of our goals at the Kennedy Center is to try to enrich the academic experience of students across campus, regardless of their major,” Ringer said. “The hope with the book of the semester project is that we can choose a book with wide appeal to students from lots of different disciplines. That will bring them all together in thinking about an important global topic.”

Ringer said that right now, reading a book on North Korea is timely.

“North Korea is a very hot international topic and we thought we might want to do something there,” Ringer said.  “[Demick]  provides context to the issue that is hard to get at otherwise.”

Ringer said that although Demick’s book is like any book—subject to influence by the author’s opinion—he said she portrayed what has not been done before.

“The fact of the matter is we don’t know very much about North Korea,” Ringer said. “Her approach of focusing on interviews with North Korean defectors, we thought, provided a really useful way of learning a bit more about North Korea.”

Gordon Flake, a member of the Kennedy Center’s International Advisory Council, was the contact for Demick’s book and inviting her to campus. He specializes in Eastern Asia relations and has been friends with Demick since she went out to Korea. He said that Demick’s book puts freedom into perspective.

“We live in a world where we tend to take our own freedoms for granted,” Flake said. “While many people believe that the Cold War is over, North Korea remains one of these last vestiges of the Cold War and outposts of tyranny in many respects. It is important for us to realize what is happening behind the walls of North Korea, and to be aware of not just the human rights abuses, but the tragedy that really is the ordinary lives of North Koreans.”

Flake said there are many books that are written about North Korea’s political issues, but that is not the case with Demick’s book.  He said she wanted to be careful to simply reveal the truth. So she chose a small group of people who lived relatively ordinary lives. All were from the same city and she chronicled their lives during the same time period. Flake said that was the best way she could balance and check her facts.

After Demick speaks on Thursday, there will be a book signing and those who do not have the book will be able to get a copy there. The book is also on sale at BYU’s bookstore for 25 percent off while it is the book of the semester.

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