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The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future Paperback

4.1 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847922368
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847922366
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,372,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Timely and important book. If you are interested in North Korea, or want to know more about North Korea, buy and read this book today. Victor Cha writes well, and the prose is lean and sparkling, and free of academic jargon. Cha, an academic who teaches at Georgetown, joined the Bush administration and worked at the NSC during the Bush Administration. Cha gives concise historial background necessary to understand what is going on today. Sprinkled throughout are Cha's reflection of his own experience of working on North Korean affairs at the NSC, as well as his visits to North and South Korea (There are some surprising insights offered re President Bush). Cha's tone is measured. This book is suitable for the general reader who know nothing about Korea (other than CNN news bulletins), as well as those who have been following North Korea, but want to know more. This book is far superior to anything on North Korea written by Bruce Cumings. Time required to finish the book: 25 hours or 6 reading sessions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been interested in North Korea for some time now and have read several books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the country. Other books approach the topic from various angles and levels of detail. Frankly, some books are so thick with detail they are impregnable for the general reader. I just wanted a book that would give me a readable, succinct insight into the society in toto, not a minute-by-minute examination of its history. The Impossible State achieves this goal by giving a readable overview of the country without getting hopelessly bogged down in minutia. I highly recommend this book to those of us with curiosity about how this dysfunctional nation operates in this modern world.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Before reading the book I had never heard of the author and have no reason to be biased.

If I could only read two recent books on this subject, I would choose this one and Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Mr. Cha's book is excellent from a foreign policy and historical standpoint, giving an unbiased history of the regime, its neighbors, and attempts to engage North Korea's leaders in dialogue. At the end Mr. Cha summarizes his gut feelings about what the regime really wants, and exposes its vulnerabilities. While his conclusions are rather grim, I think they are realistic, unlike the writings of newspaper and television pundits that we are exposed to every day. Some things I particularly liked were:
-- his observations from interactions with North Korean diplomats, sometimes when they (not the writer) were under influence of alcohol
-- his description of the mistakes made by Kim #2
-- his analysis of China's stance, how and why it continues to accommodate the Kim Dynasty.
-- his (too lengthy) descriptions of American attempts to negotiate, and the way he shows that all recent administrations have tried to engage North Korea
-- his appreciation of the ideological basis of the regime's rule (read Barbara Demick to get more info about motivations)
-- the writer did not neglect human rights issues.

The lay reader will want to skim some sections because the writer has actually included too much information. However the main value of the book is that the writer has information both from reading and from direct experience, his analysis is professional, and has a good feel for the country and its people.

I recommend this book. It is both interesting and informative.
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Format: Hardcover
Author Cha begins by describing his 2009 landing at Pyongyang International, an airport about one-tenth the size of typical international airports. When he arrived, there was only one departing flight listed on its schedule board - to Beijing.

Schoolchildren there learn conjugations by reciting 'We killed Americans,' 'We are killing Americans,' 'We will kill Americans.' Math is similarly learned via word problems that involve calculating the number of dead American soldiers. Per capita gross national income has fallen from $1,160 in 1990 to $960 in 2009. Three in 90,000 own their own car, 10% have refrigerators. Most all are vegetarians, and not by choice - beef is eaten once/year by the average N.K. citizen. The average 7-year-old boy is 8" shorter and 22 lobs lighter than his S.K. counterpart. Most defectors (now 21,000) do so for economic reasons, and 75% say they retain affection for their 'Great Leader' I, II, and III.

Forget about an Arab Spring in N.K., says Cha. And there won't be a Chinese-style modernization either - it has no credible, competent, charismatic leader such as Deng Xiaoping waiting in the wings.

N.K. originally had a considerable economic advantage over S.K., thanks to the Japanese occupiers; most of that, however, was leveled by U.S. bombing during the Korean War. Moscow and Beijing then helped it rebuild (primarily to win N.K. allegiance when Moscow and Beijing were competing), but Moscow backed out after the first three year plan when it saw N.K. focusing on heavy industry and refusing to engage in foreign trade to fill in other areas. (S.K. helped make the divorce permanent by later granting Moscow a $3 billion loan as part of reconciliation; Moscow had been providing oil at one-fourth of market price.
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