Books About Poverty in North KoreaThere are countless statistics and facts about global poverty on the internet. While this is very helpful in providing readers with a sense of what is happening around the world, it can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, statistics and facts do not adequately reflect the reality of impoverished nations.  Thus, many people rely on novels to understand the human experiences within impoverished nations. Poverty in North Korea is unknown to most people, and books are a good way to educate readers.

Storytelling relays information and allows people to collect official data. It allows readers to grasp the reality and emotions of others. According to the BBC, personal experiences are paramount in effectively bringing attention to the significant problems around them. The emotional response readers have serves as a catalyst for aid.

North Korea and Poverty

North Korea is a mysterious and unknown country to many people. Since 1948, its population has reached 25 million. As a result of its economic structure and lack of participation within the world economy, poverty in North Korea is prevalent. Approximately 60% of North Korea’s population lives in poverty.

North Korea has a command economy, which is commonplace among communist countries. The government has control over all monetary exchanges, causing the economy to remain relatively stagnant due to a lack of competition between businesses. Additionally, North Korea’s trade restrictions and sanctions have deeply hurt the country’s economy. As a result, the lack of participation has effectively barred the country from growing within the international market. Its economy is vulnerable to collapse and rates of poverty in North Korea continue to soar. Fortunately, these books below strengthen the fight against global poverty by illustrating the suffering that occurs there and showing why action is needed.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

This novel was published in 2015 and has been universally praised for its ability to convey such deep human emotion in harrowing situations. The Girl With the Seven Names is a biography of the author’s experiences in North Korea. It reflects Lee’s struggle to escape poverty with her family. In this book, Lee describes the horrid treatments and deplorable conditions that she faced living under the current North Korean regime.

Furthermore, she explains how such experiences have emotionally affected her and those around her. This work provides an inside look into the realities of poverty in North Korea. Additionally, readers are able to better understand the living conditions faced by this country’s populace.

The Accusation by Bandi

The Accusation is a series of short stories published between 1989 and 1995. This work is unique being it is not a traditional memoir, rather, it contains small chapters reflecting the everyday lives of those living in poverty in North Korea. The country’s secretive nature has made it difficult to acquire information. As such, Bandi’s work has become one of the very few sources within the country. Bandi has chosen to live within North Korea in order to continue reporting. The Accusation has been given tremendous praise for its honest writing and its importance as a primary source.

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-Sung

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea is critically acclaimed as an exposé on the way high-ranking officers of North Korea live. Author Jang Jin-Sung was previously the poet laureate to Kim Jong-il. Thus, he obtained access to extremely censored information. In this work, the author and protagonist lend a forbidden magazine to a friend and are forced to flee the country as fugitives. His writing gives an insightful account of how the upper-class lives and how the hierarchical power structure operates.

Additionally, Jin-Sung’s novel discloses the political pressure of working close with Kim Jong-il and the harsh consequences of spreading information. Jin-Sung is able to provide an astonishing amount of valuable information for readers to understand the social injustice in North Korea.

How These Books Help

These are only several books that shed light on people’s experiences and poverty in North Korea. Fortunately, many NGOs and countries continue to sent food and monetary aid to help those living in poverty. The most prevalent of North Korea’s donors are China and South Korea, with China having specifically sent an astonishing 240,074 tons of food to North Korea in 2012. Additionally, the United Nations has received pledges from Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Norway, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Ireland to aid in alleviating poverty in North Korea.

Although North Korea appears to be mysterious and secretive, researching the living conditions within this nation is not impossible. Through the primary sources and biographies reflecting life in North Korea, readers are able to understand human struggles which have occurred in this area for over half a century. Acknowledging poverty and understanding the means to provide aid has motivated many to take action today.

-Stella Vallon
Photo: Flickr

books about poverty
Poverty is not heroic. It is cruel, unfair and undignified. Poverty is so often about numbers: 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty, and three billion live on less than $2.50 a day. Nearly 800 million suffer from hunger. It is so easy to get lost in the numbers and forget that all seven billion people in this world are human – complex, beautiful and wonderful. Literature tries to catalog and understand some of that complexity. Here are five books about poverty and the people who are victims of it.

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Claire is born on the day her mother dies; “her birthday was also a day of death.” For years, her father implores wealthy Madame Gaelle, a fabric shop owner, to adopt his daughter. He needs to search for work and can’t provide for Claire. When Madame Gaelle finally agrees, Claire runs away.

She connects the residents of Ville Rose, Haiti. They – her father, ‘milk-mother,’ relatives and friends – search for her. As their loves and tragedies are unwound, the struggles of Haiti and its people are clearly, sympathetically revealed.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

It is 1965, and the fledgling Ghanian government is a snakes nest of wealthy and ambitious elites. Corruption has swept the country. Our protagonist, an unnamed and humble railway station worker, is very much an ‘everyman.’ An honest man, he refuses bribes, choosing his integrity over money he desperately needs.

It is honesty that resigns him to poverty. He witnesses the rise of “the black masters,” as power hungry and ruthless as the colonists. He sees “the teacher” losing hope for a better Ghana. He must navigate life in post-colonial Ghana and its inherent chaos.

Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

Nectar in a Sieve is the story of an Indian woman’s life from her marriage at 12 until her death. Though she is well educated, her poverty-stricken father marries her to a ‘good-hearted’ man much her senior.

She has six children, five of which are sons. While it is seen as an accomplishment she is commended for, she is not able to feed her children. Survival becomes the only goal for Rukmani. Her daughter marries early. Her sons look for any work they can find. Still, their fates are decided by unreliable weather, unpredictable harvests and the changing industry of the 20th century.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

At age 18, Nanzeen is a garment worker – she lives and works in Bangladesh, sewing buttons and zippers. Sent to London, she is married to immigrant and complete stranger Chanu.

She does not speak English, and her husband sees no reason to teach her. Her children, he reasons, will teach her eventually. Though he is not unkind, her inability to speak English severely limits her independence. Uncomfortable outside the confines of her home, she never leaves it.

The centerpiece of the story is her passionate affair with a young man, Karim. The relationships between Nanzeen, her lover and her husband are tantamount. What happens when a woman is empowered to think beyond her traditional position? How does it affect the culture from which she comes? How will her daughters live, when their mother wants freedom and education for them?

City of God by Paulo Lins

During the 1960s, the Brazilian government moved many of its favelas outside city centers. One such slum was named City of God. In his semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, Paulo Lins describes life there.

The progression of violence from hold ups to drugs dealing, drug dealing to cartels and cartels to armed gangs is manifest in the lives of petty criminals and gangsters. They are trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence, living in what The Guardian calls “a picture postcard of hell.”

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Africa Book Club, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Society of Women Engineers, New York Times
Photo: The Guardian

If you are looking to know more about global poverty and modern international issues, the list below will give you a good starting point. Enjoy your reading!

1. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) – Gender Equality

In their latest publication, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn captivate readers with accounts of women across the developing world. The struggles of these women are devastating and immense: more women have been murdered due to their gender than people killed in all of the 20th century genocides combined. Yet, amongst the murder, sexual assault and misogyny that so many women still face in regions characterized by poverty, Kristof and WuDunn have uncovered stories of resilience and hope. Tellingly, the struggle for gender equality simultaneously remains the paramount moral struggle of the 21st century, as well as the greatest source of optimism for the future.

2. Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Tracy Kidder) – Public Health

 In a non-fiction biography, Tracy Kidder illuminates the industrious philanthropist and physician Paul Farmer and his transformative work fighting tuberculosis in Haiti. Harvard-educated and a MacArthur “genius,” Farmer works tirelessly as an advocate for those most in need of modern medicine. Intricately and beautifully, Mountains Beyond Mountains conveys the dire medical needs of those living in abject poverty while also illuminating the radical change that can stem from one person.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Katherine Boo) – Global Poverty

Having lived in Bombay’s Annawadi slum for three years, Katherine Boo’s newest work illuminates the lives of those who live on the edge of traditional poverty and widespread globalization, a precarious position unique to the 21st century and India. The narrative, which follows the struggles and triumphs of the slum’s residents, uncovers the grace and poignancy in those too often forgotten, those whose real, daily struggles stretch beyond the reach of the Western imagination.

4. The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa (Deborah Brautigam) – Chinese Politics in Africa

Deborah Brautigam’s latest book on global poverty demystifies the recent upsurge in Chinese aid throughout Africa. The account, which addresses the tendentious, ongoing conversation revolving around the reality of the Chinese involvement, addresses the surplus of opinions concerning the nature of such aid. Brautigam dismisses myths and underscores facts, providing a lucid account of Chinese aid. Instead of simplifying the conversation to a discussion of merely advantageous economics, Brautigam provides intelligent and interesting insights into China as an unexpected philanthropic force.

5. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Paul Collier) – Global Poverty

Written by one of the world’s foremost experts on African economies, Paul Collier transforms the traditional way in which readers think about global poverty and aid. Collier’s solutions, many of which revolve around empowerment and domestic sustainability, captivate and motivate. Imbued with a wealth of information, The Bottom Billion is an essential text for anyone involved in the struggle against global poverty.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: NY Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian
Photo: Global Fusion