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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Suki Kim Narrator: Janet Song Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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A haunting memoir of teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s ruling class during the last six months of Kim Jong-il’s reign

Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: “Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us.” It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime. 

Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues—evangelical Christian missionaries who don’t know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn’t share their faith. She is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. To them, everything in North Korea is the best, the tallest, the most delicious, the envy of all nations. Still, she cannot help but love them—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished.

As the weeks pass, she begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own—at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. The students in turn offer Suki tantalizing glimpses into their lives, from their thoughts on how to impress girls to their disappointment that soccer games are only televised when the North Korean team wins. Then Kim Jong-il dies, leaving the students devastated, and leading Suki to question whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.

Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves.”

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Terrifying and sublime, Without You, There Is No Us is a stealth account of heartbreak. Suki Kim, brilliant author of The Interpreter, penetrates the soul of her divided country of origin, bearing witness to generations of maimed lives and arrested identities. This look inside totalitarian North Korea is like no other.” 

    Jayne Anne Phillips, New York Times bestselling author of Machine Dreams

  • “Enthralling…Reveals the perplexing innocence and ignorance of one of the world’s most secretive countries.”

    O, The Oprah Magazine

  • “Sometimes personal histories retain a potent electromagnetic force, [like] Suki Kim’s rivetingly topical look inside the most isolationist country on earth.”


  • “Suki Kim’s…chilling memoir…reminds us that evil is not only banal; it is also completely arbitrary…But whether Kim realizes it or not, her…book suggests that the North Korean authorities, or at least the higher education system, has already surrendered to the future. They seem to take it as a foregone conclusion that Harry Potter is as inexorable as the Internet, impossible to keep at bay forever. Can a dissolution of the most closed regime the modern world has ever known be far behind?”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Remarkable…A deeply unsettling book, offering a rare and disturbing inside glimpse into the strangeness, brutality, and claustrophobia of North Korea…Kim’s book is full of small observations that vividly evoke the paranoia and loneliness of a nation living in fear and in thrall to its ‘Great Leaders’…Her portraits of her students are tender and heartbreaking, highlighting the enormity of what is at stake.”

    Chicago Tribune

  • “Daring…Kim finds that paranoia is contagious—and can become chillingly routine. ‘My little soldiers were also little robots,’ she writes before departing, mourning not only that she must leave but that they must stay.”

    Boston Globe

  • “[An] extraordinary and troubling portrait of life under severe repression.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “A touching portrayal of the student experience in North Korea…Well-written and thoroughly captivating.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “A rare and nuanced look at North Korean culture, and an uncommon addition to the ‘inspirational-teacher’ genre.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “A novelist and freelance journalist relates her experiences, both grim and gratifying, as an English teacher in a small North Korean university…Directs the lights of emotion and intelligence on a country where ignorance is far from bliss.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “Janet Song’s measured voicing is precise and serious, befitting the spare, unadorned surroundings in which the author finds herself. Song’s lightly Asian-accented tones help portray the author’s own South Korean heritage and knowledge of the Korean language, both of which give her additional access to North Koreans. Song does especially well at capturing the stiff recitations and largely unquestioning nature of the North Korean students Kim taught. This is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s most secretive nations.”


  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week in October 2014
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
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