Have I read all the books about North Korea? No. But I have read a few and for those that want to know more there is plenty to chose from. I was standing in a bookshop the other day and saw four books about the country without looking to hard. I’m not the only one who is fascinated but also have hopes for the future of the people there. I wish the best for the future and that democracy becomes reality and that they no longer need to suffer. That said, it will be a rocky road to freedom. Here is a quick summary of the books, as always in no particular order.
1. In order to live by Yeonmin Park. I’m just about to finish this book but will include it. What it lacks in storytelling flourishes it makes up for by being an amazing story. The very simple and direct storytelling accentuate rather then cloud it. But Park does come across as a young woman with her head on her shoulders and her feet firmly on the ground. She has absorbed what she has been exposed to and manages to reflect maturely on her experiences.
2. Nothing to envy by Barbara Demick. This is one of the best books about the country because of the format, it’s based on interviews of people that have defected. Both the difficult lives in the North and the hard transition to living the south are discussed. Very informative and still relevant.
3. Ambassaden i paradiset by Lovisa Lamm. This book is only available in Swedish and no surprise as it is about the relationship between the Swedish government and Pyongyang in the 70’s. We gave them loans and development aid so that they could buy Swedish cars and components for their industry. Supposedly those cars are still rolling in the streets. Which isn’t exactly the kind of thing that Volvo wants to put in their ads I guess, but it can be argued that is a sign of quality vehicles. Reminicenst of old American cars in Havana.
4. Alla monster måste dö by Magnus Bjärtås and Fredrik Ekman. Another one only available in Swedish I’m afraid and it’s a shame because it’s brilliant. When it was written their wasn’t as much literature around but they did as much research as possible. They also took a week long trip to the country. One of the main narratives is the crazy story about how a famous south Korean actress, and her director husband, were both kidnapped to please Kim Il Jong. The couple(that had divorced earlier) found themselves captive in a foreign country where “the dear leader” wanted them to make movies(and become a couple again). And they did, There is also the travel that Bjärtås and Ekman did themselves and their impression not only of North Korea but also the other people that chose to visit the country. Its both a hilarious and horrifying read. An american book has been written about the actress and director but I haven’t read it.
5. Dear Leader: my escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-Sung. Unlike many other that have written books about their escapes from the brutal regime,Jin-Sang, was a poet already in his homeland and thus knows how to use words to a great effect. This is a well-written account and interesting because he was part of the upper echelons of society. Not top-brass but well off relatively speaking. I’ve recommended this to many people and I stand by that.
6. Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle. Is this the best book about the country? No. Is it a graphic novel that it takes about 45 minutes to read(slowly)? Yes. What is interesting is that he visited in 2001 when very few others did so. As someone that read it when I had a few other books on the subject under my belt, it became a part in a puzzle.
7. Escape from camp 14 by Shin Dong-Hyuk. This is a dramatic story for sure. Adam Johnson must have looked at this to write his novel “The Orphan master’s son”(which is also good but a novel). It’s the way that it was written(or maybe the translation) that didn’t sit well with me but it is hard to judge based on what he has been through. Worth reading.
I’ve got my eye on The accusation by Bandi next ( a novel written in North Korea by someone still living there and smuggled out) but we’ll see when I get there.