Without You, There Is No Us - Suki Kim

Without You, There Is No Us

By Suki Kim

  • Release Date: 2014-10-14
  • Genre: Asia
Score: 4.5
From 177 Ratings


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.


  • Loved it!

    By franks lady
    I read the whole book within days and loved it! Great read!
  • Complex, multi-layered

    By Bigjrun10k
    I read the entire book in 2 days. I could not put it down. The book evokes numerous emotions and presents philosophical challenges from a variety of angles. It leaves a lasting impression on the reader and demands to be discussed, debated, and pondered. Thank you to the author for having the courage to live the experience and share it with others.
  • Very poignant and at times very humorous.

    By Jhbemmer
    Thanks for a rare and informed view inside a country stuck in a century long forgotten. I did find it interesting they allow western movies to be shown, something I would think they would frown upon. It was a book I could not stop reading, thanks for sharing your journey with us.
  • Without You There Is No Us

    By El Maximo Jefe
    This book presents a rare and fascinating perspective on North Korea. Suki Kim's writing is masterful and she literally makes you feel that you're there with her experiencing every moment as a teacher and resident at PUST.
  • An amazing read

    By Philostoned
    I read this shortly after reading 1984 by George Orwell. And, I am just stunned/fascinated that a place like that can still exist in the world today. Suki Kim has given us an extremely rare glimpse inside this dark and backwards country known as the DPRK.
  • Heart Rendering

    By Guppies
    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.
  • Heartbreaking.

    By Shakira without the Sha
    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.
  • Fantastic

    By WeAreTheBorg
    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.