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North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0786428397
ISBN-10: 0786428392
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If anything is missing here, it's probably not worth knowing...well written, comprehensive and relevatory...valuable." --School Library Journal

"Deserves ongoing mention and recommendation as a powerful survey...must have this rare insider's look at the North Korean psyche." --Midwest Book Review

"We are obliged to Lankov for this insight...Lankov is one of the most illuminating North Korea watchers around...uniquely perceptive...especially good on the details of everyday life." --The New York Review of Books

"Deserves ongoing mention and recommendation as a powerful survey...must have this rare insider's look at the North Korean psyche." --Midwest Book Review

"Offers an intriguing and informative peek into North Korea through the lens of daily life." --Pacific Affairs

"Valuable...a detailed description of North Korean life...one of the best guides to the daily life of North Koreans available in English." --Korean Quarterly

About the Author

Andrei Lankov is a senior lecturer at the Australian National University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786428392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786428397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,334,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Fascinating description of daily life in North Korea, and how much it has changed in recent years. The essays are short and informative. I planned to only read a few, but this book is almost impossible to put down. Every page contains a revelation. The writing is witty and engaging.

Lankov is a Korea expert who grew up in the USSR, so he is able to fruitfully contrast the communist society of his youth with North Korea. That gives him an edge that is illuminating about more than just North Korea.

A few examples that caught my attention:

Lankov went to North Korea as a Soviet exchange student. Russians in the USSR thought of North Koreans as brainwashed automatons back then--quite similar to the American perception, but who knew?

When North Korean television showed a protest in South Korea to demonstrate that South Koreans were oppressed, the average North Korean noticed instead that, contrary to what they had been told by their government, South Koreans did not appear poor. They appeared well fed and well dressed. Unlike themselves.

Chinese people are dumping VCRs and buying DVD players in droves, the result of which is that--in part because the border has become porous due to the decline of the North Korean state-- North Koreans are buying cheap used VCRs and watching South Korean programming, spreading South Korean fashion, music and culture. Lankov compares that to the rock and roll and blue jeans of his Soviet youth, and wonders if the consequences might be similar.
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Format: Paperback
Most talking heads, or indeed all talking heads, especially those you see on TV or read from articles, can only pretend to know anything about North Korea, and then only superficially, and even that is from the speculations of others who themselves in turn, for lack of real knowledge, only imagine what life is like in North Korea, based on whatever meager rumors and arrogant and erroneous hearsay they picked up from places they don't remember, and necessarily supplemented and twisted using their own unfortunately totally unrelated life experience. All, that is, except Andrei Lankov.

It's amazing to realize how little we Westerners know about communism after 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars fighting and analyzing it, let alone a far eastern version of it, let alone one that's pushed to the extreme.

North Korea is almost a make-believe world.

Andrei Lankov grew up in the communist USSR and spent two(?) years in the Kim Il-Sung university in the DPRK, and is now a lecturer/processor in a university in South Korea. His essays about life in the DPRK have run on the Korea Times website for some time, and have been some of the most sought-after articles. Now collected in book form, they tell of the daily life in DPRK from an insider's point of view, with profound understanding of how communism really works. They make a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in the bizarre but logical in its own way world of communism. The writing style is particular cozy and fun. Enjoy a few of these essays, and you can probably talk more intelligently or at least correctly about the DPRK than 90% of the talking heads who are too busy projecting opinions and making money to have any time left to understand something as difficult as communism or the DPRK.
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For years now, Western observers of North Korea have tended to use absolutes in describing the country. It is, for example, said to be the last Stalinist nation on earth and the world's most secretive, isolated, autarkic society, while its leader (Kim Chong-il) is characterized and caricatured as odd and ruthless in the extreme. None of these descriptors is necessarily wrong, but individually and collectively they tend to obscure the fact that a great deal has changed over the past several decades.

Riding to the rescue, so to speak, is the distinguished Russian scholar Andrei Lankov, who has gathered together in "North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea" articles originally printed in the "Korea Times" and "Asia Times." Lankov brings to his musings and this book exceptional skills and credentials: he writes beautifully, has a fine sense of humor, attended Kim Il-song University several decades ago, knows South Korea as well as its northern counterpart, and has personally experienced growing up in a Communist country. The resulting book is a delight to read and certainly one of the most valuable primers ever published on North Korea, with its 100-plus essays at once both anecdotal in tone and exceptionally well-researched.

Lankov's main focus in "North of the DMZ" is the life of everyday North Koreans, and in this regard the essays cover everything from the arts, media, social structure, and recreation to love and marriage, transportation, education, and food supplies. Another large portion of the essays cover policies and control systems that the government has tried to impose, with the emphasis here on how poorly these are actually working.
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