Suki Kim, author of the award-winning novel The Interpreter and recipient of multiple fellowships including a Fulbright Research Grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship, spent six months in 2011 teaching English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), North Korea’s only privately funded university. The university is staffed by foreigners and exclusively teaches the sons of North Korea’s elites. Kim’s recent memoir, Without You, There Is No Us; My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elites chronicles her stay in the country and sheds some light on the lives of the young men she taught.
Many first-hand accounts of life in North Korea come from defectors who, as Kim notes, tend to be poorer and from the far north, along the Chinese border. In any case, their perspectives are narrow. High-level defections are rare and knowledge of how the upper-crust lives is equally scarce. Other views of life in North Korea stem from carefully orchestrated events – such as the New York Philharmonic’s 2008 visit. Reporters allowed in for such events are herded through a choreographed experience, like tourists sitting through the It’s a Small World boat ride in Disney World.
Read the rest of my review on The Diplomat.