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Without You, There Is No Us

My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


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 the all-male 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. As the weeks pass, she is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. At the same time, they offer Suki tantalizing glimpses of their private selves—their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished. She in turn 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. But when Kim Jong-il dies, and the boys she has come to love appear devastated, she wonders 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."

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 08, 2014 – In this extraordinary and troubling portrait of life under severe repression, South Korean born Kim, who emigrated with her family to America when she was 13 years old, chronicles the two semesters she spent teaching English to North Korean teens at a Christian missionary school in Pyongyang. Having visited the highly closed and secretive state as part of various official American and journalist delegations starting in 2002, Kim jumped at the chance to live and teach at the newly opened Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). "North Korea," she writes, "has become a siren for the hankering mind," and, despite some critical articles she had published and her work as a novelist (The Interpreter), she was accepted at PUST, a boarding school for the country's male elite. Her earnest, obedient students elicited a warmly maternal, protective feeling in her, despite their ignorance of the outside world, their empty boasting of their country's achievements, and the easy way they lied outright. The missionary teachers were never allowed outside of the compound without a group escort and were aware of constant surveillance; although they were provided access to the Internet, their students' access was severely censored. While Kim hoped somehow to open their minds and insisted on honesty (playing Truth or Lie, for example), she was knowingly betraying the school and the teachers by writing her secret account and passing herself off as a missionary. Her account is both perplexing and deeply stirring.

Customer Reviews


Really fantastic book. I've always been fascinated by North Korea and how the government controls its citizens.

Kim does a superb job of putting the daily life of these students into words, and it offers a rare glimpse of what's in the mind of North Korean citizens. You also get the true sense of dread she must have felt in the moments she knew she was being spied on or watched carefully. Definitely a recommended read for anyone curious about the DPRK.


The light that Suki Kim shines on the people of North Korea, those that are oppressed and those who do the oppressing, should be a wake-up call for people who view Kim Jong-un as just a crazy guy with a bad haircut. Thankfully there a few brave souls willing to risk everything to show the world the truth.The most heartbreaking part of the book is that we may never know what became of the students so lovingly introduced to us through this book.

Heart Rendering

The extreme right and left of this Country could learn much about where we could be headed if we continue down our present path of "us vs them" and not begin to build our country as a team. Ms. Kim's book is extremely frightening and, sadly, shows how inhumane humans can make one another by teaching hatred and only advancing one's own objectives.

Without You, There Is No Us
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  • $11.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Asia
  • Published: Oct 14, 2014
  • Publisher: Crown/Archetype
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 320 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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