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A graphic "novel" by animator Guy Delisle recounting some of his experiences while visiting Pyongyang as head of an "off-shore" animating group. While I wasn't particularly fond of the cartoon style, the observations are interesting and often chilling. For example, at one point in the novel, Guy notices that he has not seen a single handicapped person. He asks his official guide and interpreter about this and is told that "North Korea is a homogeneous society and as such gives birth only to strong, healthy North Koreans--apparently without irony--or at least any that he would have been able to detect.

For aficionados of "the world is flat," we get a glimpse into what the flat world means outside of this country. At one point Delisle reports about a woman who was ecstatic to be returning to the relative freedom of Beijing. During his stay, Guy was never allowed anywhere unescorted, he was allowed to eat in a total of three restaurants. He observed that on payday, along with the meager pay checks the employees received a ration of rice that was stockpiled and redistributed by the studio.

The litany of sad, surreal, and frightening things goes on and on, and these were only the things Delisle was allowed to see. Naturally he never got closer than rumor to the "reeducation camps of Northern North Korea." The constant, watching image of the two Kims reminded Delisle of the Big Brother of 1984. Only, in some ways, 1984 was a benign vision of the world compared with this. North Korea seems to have fully implemented it and upgraded it--constant streams of propaganda from the state-run station, posters, images, icons, statutes, monuments, memorials, and palaces dedicated to the two Kims, who are never really seen as separate people but as one continuous leader. Most frightening of all, all of this is a city that has power only for the hotels that host foreigners and for the lighting of their shrines of the two Kims.

North Korea has been reduced to abject poverty by the oppressive regime that has been in control over the past 50 or so years. At one point in the novel, speculating at about reunification of Korea, Delisle points out that the South Koreans might not be in any rush to welcome back a huge unemployed workforce that has approximately 1/60th of the income of South Korea--he points out the huge cost that West Germany took upon reunification with the East.

I don't know if I really recommend this book, but I did find it interesting and wondered about the accuracy of many of the things recorded in it. Of course, in a country so closed to the outside and so sequestered from all inquiring eyes, it may not be possible ever to know very much about what really goes on there.

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Is the story presented as fiction?

Dear Don,

I don't think so, but there are elements that suggest fictionalization of real experiences. For example, I don't know if Delisle actually went with a copy of 1984 and then presented it to a Korean interpreter--an act that could conceivably have resulted in the interpreter's imprisonment or worse.

It's written as nonfiction, but I suspect there may be touches that enhance his points. So, say it is like In Cold Blood or Hiroshima--a novel, but mostly fact. (These are my perceptions and



Chilling, indeed.

The lack of handicapped peple in the capital is one of the most disturbing aspects of North Korea, as is its idolization of the "homogeneous society" and racialism.

Recently here in the south, after the half-Korean Hines Ward became the Super Bowl MVP, the issue of mixed-race people has become a big issue. There has been much media promotion of more positive attitudes towards these folks. The North's news agency condemned such attitudes, calling for the purity of the Korean race.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 28, 2006 9:05 AM.

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