and I had always been obsessed with it. So in 2011, I went undercover into North Korea, posing as a missionary and a teacher to instruct English to the 19-year-old sons of North Korea’s ruling class at a brand-new university staffed only by foreigners. I lived on a walled campus with the students and ate all my meals with them, and was constantly monitored by minders. I kept notes whenever I could, erasing everything from my computer and keeping it on USB sticks, which I carried on my body. What I wrote would become Without You, There Is No Us.
This book is a literary nonfiction based on investigative reporting. It contains emotions & personal perspectives & history — the devices that make a book “literary.” The book is not based on memories to explain my life, but based on undercover investigative journalism to convey the psychology of North Korea’s future leaders and their very complex and human and inhumane world, seen through my eyes. Those who expect a straightforward reporter’s nonfiction, this is not. Those who expect a memoir about a woman’s self-discovery, this is not. Here is the prologue; more excerpt at bottom:
Time there seemed to pass differently. When you are shut off from the world, every day is exactly the same as the one before. This sameness has a way of wearing down your soul until you become nothing but a breathing, toiling, consuming thing that awakes to the sun and sleeps at the dawning of the dark. The emptiness runs deep, deeper with each slowing day, and you become increasingly invisible and inconsequential. That’s how I felt at times, a tiny insect circling itself, only to continue, and continue. There, in that relentless vacuum, nothing moved. No news came in or out. No phone calls to or from anyone. No emails, no letters, no ideas not prescribed by the regime. Thirty missionaries disguised as teachers and 270 male North Korean students and me, the sole writer disguised as a missionary disguised as a teacher. Locked in that prison disguised as a campus in an empty Pyongyang suburb, heavily guarded around the clock, all we had was one another.
A New York Times bestseller!
“It’s like no other book I’ve ever read. It’s a look into a society and culture objectively, yet humanizing, terrifying, amazing.”
— Jon Stewart, The Daily Show