Sunday, February 8, 2015
Community Blog Post #3: Memoir Review
On Christmas Day, I received a present that I had been excited to receive: Suki Kim's Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite. I have always been fascinated with North Korea and it's mysterious veil of secrecy from the rest of the world. This memoir is about Suki Kim's time as a teacher in a Christian school within North Korea. She taught at the only school opened in North Korea during this time period as all other schools and universities were closed due to a large scale building project that required workers. Kim allows us to see her man child students and try to gain perspective on the ideologies of North Koreans. The author discusses the isolation she feels as well as the isolation North Koreans feel from the world. The author paints a vividly dark world within the school compound, that emits life sustaining moments of humor and good will. She reviews the difficulties she faces while planning English lessons that must be heavily monitored for any Western influence. Kim paints a picture of continual fear and watching within the school compound and the emotional toll it takes on her.
One particular story was when Kim had her students make resumes and do mock job interviews. Kim realizes mid-lesson that these students will never have to use this process, as students take civil examinations and are placed in jobs by the government. Little moments like these show the continual struggle she faces as a South Korean woman who has experienced democratic freedom versus the community based totalitarian North Korean community she is now immersed in.
As I read this memoir, I went into it looking for information. I didn't really feel the need to connect to the author. But as I delved in, I found a connection as a teacher and the barriers all teachers face. Kim discussed a few students who rebelled against her and another teacher. She discussed students with anxiety that almost shattered their goals and dreams. She talked about how she tried to show students a bigger world for themselves but they were not willing to listen. I have faced all of these things and as a reader, it was a moment of "I'm not alone." Yes, I'm an American teacher in an American school but that affirmation of not being alone was one of the best Christmas presents I received all year.