Suki Kim is a Korean-American writer who was born in Seoul and moved to the United States at the age of 13. Driven by her Korean roots and her family background – her uncle disappeared in the Korean War, leaving her mother and grandmother scarred for life – Suki developed a keen interest in North Korean affairs.
After visiting North Korea several times and writing extensively about the land, Suki Kim landed a job as an English teacher at the newly constructed PUST, or Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. Aside from that fact that it was in North Korea, funded by a Christian missionary organization, and that Suki herself was there as an undercover writer, PUST was not a regular college: all of its students were boys and happened to be the children of North Korea’s highest elite.
Suki Kim wrote about her experiences in her most recent book, Without You, There is No Us, published by Crown Publishing. The book traces her life during the six months she lived on campus with 270 students, 50 of which she taught personally. She carefully describes her impressions of these young men, how she tried to broaden their horizon as much as she could, and how she felt and survived in a world of mind games and unsaids, where constant propaganda, censorship and the fear of repression so heavily weigh on one’s shoulders.
Without You, There is No Us is Suki Kim’s first major book of non-fiction. Her debut novel, The Interpreter, was a finalist for a PEN Hemingway Prize and was translated into five languages. She also wrote cover feature essays for Harper’s Magazine and The New York Review of Books, as well as many op-eds and essays for The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. She has been the recipient of several high profile scholarships, including a Fulbright Research Grant, the Guggenheim fellowship and the Soros Foundation’s Open Societies fellowship. Suki Kim graduated from Barnard College with a BA in English and also studied Korean literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
What is the best scenario of their lives in North Korea? […] I’d rather they just become the soldiers of their regime and at least – just individually – be happy. And even if they have to do bad things, let them do it. I think that’s because they became my kids and I don’t want them to start any revolution and hurt themselves.
The interview was conducted on February 13th in Seoul.