NüVoices Podcast #62: Eat the Buddha: A conversation with award-winning author Barbara Demick

Barbara Demick is the author of Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town (2020), Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009), and Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo neighborhood (1996). She spent 12 years as bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in Beijing and Seoul and previously reported from the Middle East and Balkans for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Barbara has won many awards for her work, including the Samuel Johnson prize (now the Baillie Gifford prize) for non-fiction in the UK, the Overseas Press Club’s human rights reporting award, the George Polk Award, the Robert F Kennedy Award, and Stanford University’s Shorenstein Award for Asia coverage. Her North Korea book was a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She was a press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Bagehot fellow in business journalism at Columbia University, and a visiting professor of journalism at Princeton University. She grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Yale College, and now lives in New York City.

Barbara joins NüVoices board member Sophia Yan to discuss her most recent book, Eat the Buddha, which tells the story of Ngaba, a town high on a Tibetan plateau that is one of the most hidden corners of the world, and near-impossible for foreigners to visit. Through the rich tales of those linked to this town, Barbara illuminates decades of intertwined Tibetan and Chinese history, and explores what it means to be Tibetan today — to preserve a culture, faith and language despite all odds. Barbara talks about navigating reporting on China, despite the challenges, imparts sage writing advice, and previews her next book in the works. 


Sophia: Read Barbara’s books! Eat the BuddhaNothing to EnvyLogavina Street. Also this fascinating New Yorker article from May that I just read (the issues take forever to arrive abroad) about cutting-edge research on using electricity to regenerate limbs.

Barbara: The Ministry for the Future, a science fiction book set in the near future about people trying to save the world from the ravages of climate change. I was reading it as the New York City subways flooded from the tail of Hurricane Ida. 

Evan Osnos’ forthcoming Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury, about how America is tearing itself apart with political polarization. 

Yes, I know you’d say not exactly soothing bedtime reading. More cheerful listening to podcaster Mike Duncan’s Hero of Two Worlds about the Marquis de Lafayette.

Self-Care Suggestions:

Sophia: Not looking at your phone and emails/messages the minute you wake up! Try setting a timeframe – say half an hour – or perhaps until your morning routine is over (ie brushing teeth, washing face, making/having breakfast. Look out the window, enjoy your coffee/tea/Oatly/delivered jianbing! Then…. thumb scroll! 

Barbara: I’d say read before bed (don’t watch Netflix or other streaming late at night) and turn off the lights before midnight. Researchers say if you don’t get enough sleep in middle age, you increase your chances of dementia.