Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea” won the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize, defeating Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail” and four other finalists for the annual U.K. nonfiction award, worth 20,000 pounds ($30,000).
Demick, a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, was honored in a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects for her account of six ordinary North Koreans who struggle to survive inside the hermetic land of Kim Jong Il.
The contest organizers praised “Nothing to Envy” (Granta/Spiegel & Grau) for creating what they called an unforgettable look at a country where even “Gone With the Wind” is considered dangerous literature.
“It is the personal detail in ‘Nothing to Envy’ that makes it both gripping and moving,” said the chairman of the judging panel, economist and Radio 4 presenter Evan Davis, in an e-mailed statement.
“Nowhere will you find a better account of real life in North Korea, a society that is all too easily comically typecast by massive parades of co-ordinated flag-wavers.”
Each runner-up, including Sorkin for “Too Big to Fail” (Allen Lane/Viking), receives 1,000 pounds. The other finalists were “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland” by Alex Bellos (Bloomsbury); “Blood Knots” by Luke Jennings (Atlantic); “A Gambling Man” by Jenny Uglow (Faber); and “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” by Richard Wrangham (Profile/Basic).
First granted in 1999, the Samuel Johnson Prize is billed as the U.K.’s richest award for the genre and is sponsored by the British Broadcasting Corp.