Without You, There Is No Us: Revisiting Suki Kim

I’m a pretty big Book Riot fan – I mean what’s not to love. The staff and writers are passionate about books and reading and I love their philosophy of encouraging wider reading throughout the book loving community.

I’m also pretty interested in stuff coming out of North Korea. North Korea is such a restricted, sealed off part of the world, we really have no idea what’s happening there with the exception of the state of the current Kim Jong’s hair do.

I’ve been unwell this week and took the opportunity to catch up on my favourite podcasts, and something I heard Amanda and Rebecca talking about in episode 164 left me absolutely cold and angry.

In 2014, Without You, There Is No Us was published, detailing Kim’s time spent as an undercover journalist working as an English teacher at a school for the sons of the regime. The book was published and marketed as a memoir. It should not have been – Kim is an investigative journalist. Kim feels that if she had written the same book as a white male, this would not be the rabbit hole she would have fallen down.

I read Without You, There Is No Us last year, not long after having come across Kim’s TED Talk. It was interesting and offered a view of what was going on inside the regime from a perspective not given by the “defector lit” that seems to be most of what we, the public, know of what’s going on in North Korea at the moment.

One of the things that bothered me about the book was the ‘sub-plot’ (if you like) about Kim’s ‘lover’  and her difficulty keeping her relationship together whilst in one of the most cut off places in the planet. This struck me at the time as a tad juvenile, but the writing of these sections were so  underdeveloped and under described compared to the rest of the book, it was almost as though it didn’t belong there.

Now I can’t help but wonder if perhaps, in fact,  it didn’t belong there- if this was something edited in to help sell the book as a memoir (‘honey, you need a love interest’) rather than what was actually going on for her. It would certainly explain the jarring sensation those sections gave me.

This also leads me to ask – what else was edited out? I was  a little perturbed by the book seeming to hold not as many insights as were hinted to in Kim’s TED Talk. I initially assumed this was a writing problem, but perhaps this too was an editing issue. I would love to see what edits were made to Kim’s work to see if there was indeed, as she claims, an effort to make it into a Korean Eat, Pray, Love. (You can read the interview here.)

Let’s make no mistake – Kim’s achievement it huge. She infiltrated, investigated, escaped and reported on one of the most repressive and dangerous regimes in the world at the moment.  This has been trivialised by her publisher – the organisation that should be going out of its way for her –  because of her gender and her race, and how that makes them view her as a marketable commodity.

Remember that all Hunter S Thompson had to do to be labelled an amazing journalist was hang with a bunch of bikies and take a heap of drugs. How would a woman in that situation be labelled and/or marketed?

One comment

  1. I sometimes listen to the Book Riot podcast before going to bed cause hey, books! It’s just too bad that whenever it’s the 2 girls, one is always laughing so loud, it keeps waking me up after I just dozed off :D. I didn’t hear this one, but it’s definitely an interesting topic. A memoir my arse! Such a shame.

    Liked by 1 person

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