North Korea book wins top award

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The £20,000 BBC Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction has been awarded to an American journalist for her account of the lives of six people in the world's most secretive country.

Two teenaged lovers courting in secret, an idealistic woman doctor, a homeless boy and a model factory worker and her daughter, are the subject of Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.

The book, which had been the bookmakers' favourite to win Britain's most prestigious non-fiction prize, was described by judges as a "clear winner".

Evan Davis, chairman of the judges and a presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, said: "It is the personal detail that makes it both gripping and moving. 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.

"It's sad and it's dramatic and it just gets right out of the capital and gives you a taste of the grim reality of life where people don't have enough to eat, no freedom at all and no personal expression," he said.

Demick, a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in Beijing, spent nearly a decade interviewing North Korean defectors for the book.