Episode 57, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube


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Barbara Demick is a journalist, an essayist, and is the author of both Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea and Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town. During our conversation, Barbara talks about how she became interested in North Korea, the founding of North Korea in 1945, how its society is structured, its ability to isolate its citizens from the outside world, its famine in the 1990's, the defectors she met who became the key characters in her book, and whether its leadership are true-believing Communists or primarily hungry for power.

She also talks about her more recent book, Eat the Buddha, which details the Chinese history and relationship with Tibet, the day-to-day lives of ordinary Tibetan citizens, what happened in 1958, Tibetan acts of self-immolation, and the influence of the Dalai Lama. As Barbara mentions during the interview, it's the role of the journalist to provide the truth, not to provide hope. And in both of these oppressed places, any enduring hope that may change the plight of North Koreans and Tibetans must start by having an accurate understanding of the tragedy, the history, and lived reality of its people.

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Time Stamps:

(00:00) Introduction
(02:35) Early life and interest in studying North Korea
(05:53) The creation of North Korea
(08:50) North Korea from the 50s to 80s
(11:32) Getting access to North Koreans
(19:22) The traumas of the North Koreans
(23:08) “Nothing To Envy” quotes and the book’s impact on North Koreans
(28:10) The North Korean famine of the 90s
(31:31) Is the North Korean leadership evil, or committed Communists?
(35:45) North Korea in 2022
(39:27) “Nothing To Envy” quotes – abuse of power in North Korea
(44:48) Threats to freedom in the US
(48:34) Hope for North Korean people
(49:01) Interest in studying the relationship between China and Tibet
(55:09) The importance of the year 1958 for Tibet
(59:58) “Eat The Buddha” quotes
(01:05:37) Life of a Tibetan
(01:12:06) Lesser-known truths about North Korea and Tibet

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