A little bone to pick with a major book

Nothing To Envy and Demick

This National Book Award finalist quotes from my interview with Korean War vet Gene Salay.

While I was picking out veggies at the Allentown Farmers Market several weeks ago, a friend came up to me and said a book that her book club was reading mentioned The Morning Call and me. We’re in the chapter notes at the end, she said.

The book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick has real literary heft. The Wall Street Journal called it “deeply moving,” The New York Review of Books said it’s “A tour de force of meticulous reporting,” and it was a finalist for the National Book Award.

First published in 2009, it came out in paperback last year. I bought a copy at Barnes & Noble after opening to the notes for Chapter 2 and seeing that Demick had quoted from my 2003 interview with Korean War veteran Gene Salay, which ran in my “War Stories in Their Own Words” series.

This is terrific, I thought. An award-winning journalist who’s the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times – which like The Morning Call is owned by the Tribune Co. – had found a piece of my work that she believed would help illuminate her story. I guessed that she discovered it at http://www.mcall.com/news/local/warstories/, where all of the stories in my 12-year-old series are posted.

The passage she quoted from is Gene’s account of an attack by Chinese troops on July 13, 1953, on a hill near the village of Kumhwa. http://www.mcall.com/news/all-genesalay,0,1701380.story

Attributing the words to “a U.S. soldier” in the text, she has Gene saying the soldiers would see the “hills and valleys come alive with thousands of enemy soldiers.”

Oh yeah, I remember that line.

She goes on with him saying, “We were incredulous. It was like a scene unfolding in a motion picture.”

Yep, that was Gene.

I read on that it had been raining steadily for a week at Kumhwa and the hills “streamed with blood and water.”

Yeah, that was … no wait. I don’t remember Gene saying that.

I checked the story and that fragment isn’t in there. Gene does say later in his account that there were “pools of blood everywhere … and the blood flowed down the hill into a ditch and ran along the roadside.” But nowhere does he say, poetically, that the hills “streamed with blood and water.” Maybe they did, but Gene didn’t put it into those exact words.

So what, you say?

Well, it’s not true to Gene’s account, for one thing, and he’s not around to make an issue of it because he died last year. For another, the author points out in the chapter notes that the interview is my work.

It is, and it’s being misrepresented.

I got onto the website for the book, www.nothingtoenvy.com, and sent Demick a note on Oct. 19. I’m hoping to hear from her.


2 responses to “A little bone to pick with a major book

  1. This comes close to claiming medals one did not earn or deserve. You have my best wishes to bring the truth of this to the front page of journalism.


  2. Dimmick seems to have taken poetic license. This was a WAR REPORT, not some “dark and stormy night” scenario from a mystery. Gene said it best. You reported what he said. She needs to be brought to task.


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