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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea Paperback – May 1, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 2001, French-Canadian cartoonist Delisle traveled to North Korea on a work visa to supervise the animation of a children's cartoon show for two months. While there, he got a rare chance to observe firsthand one of the last remaining totalitarian Communist societies. He also got crappy ice cream, a barrage of propaganda and a chance to fly paper airplanes out of his 15th-floor hotel window. Combining a gift for anecdote and an ear for absurd dialogue, Delisle's retelling of his adventures makes a gently humorous counterpoint to the daily news stories about the axis of evil, a Lost in Translation for the Communist world. Delisle shifts between accounts of his work as an animator and life as a visitor in a country where all foreigners take up only two floors of a 50-story hotel. Delisle's simple but expressive art works well with his account, humanizing the few North Koreans he gets to know (including "Comrade Guide" and "Comrade Translator"), and facilitating digressions into North Korean history and various bizarre happenings involving brandy and bear cubs. Pyongyang will appeal to multiple audiences: current events buffs, Persepolis fans and those who just love a good yarn. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Pyongyang documents the two months French animator Delisle spent overseeing cartoon production in North Korea, where his movements were constantly monitored by a translator and a guide, who together could limit his activities but couldn't restrict his observations. He records everything from the omnipresent statues and portraits of dictators Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to the brainwashed obedience of the citizens. Rather than conveying his disorientation through convoluted visual devices, Delisle uses a straightforward Eurocartoon approach that matter-of-factly depicts the mundane absurdities he faced every day. The gray tones and unembellished drawings reflect the grim drabness and the sterility of a totalitarian society. Delisle finds black comedy in the place, though, and makes small efforts at subversion by cracking jokes that go over the humorless translator's head and lending the guide a copy of 1984. Despite such humor, which made his sojourn bearable and overcame his alienation and boredom, Delisle maintains empathy. Viewing an eight-year-old accordion prodigy's robotic concert performance, he thinks, "It's all so cold . . and sad. I could cry." Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly; 1st edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1897299214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1897299210
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Swan VINE VOICE on January 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Since the end of the Korean War, North Korea has become the most isolated, mysterious and fortified country on Earth. Unlike many other remote locations around the world North Korea is not a place many people would want to spend any time. However, thanks to globalization, North Korea's vast supply of super cheap labor and a real need for foreign investment the country has opened its doors just a crack and in peeked cartoonist Guy Delisle for a view at probably the most tightly regulated society on the planet. Mr. Delisle documents his experience in North Korea accompanied by his ever present "guide" and his translator. Pyongyang isn't really a story per se as much as a slice of life glimpse at the daily goings on in North Korea or at least as much of a glimpse as foreigners are allowed to see.

The drawing style in Pyongyang is a minimalist black and white that captures nicely the mirthless life in North Korea. You get a sense that the leadership is desperately trying to maintain a good face for the rest of the world but like the bridge in the book that only gets half painted the rust is bleeding through and the cracks are growing. There could hardly be a better advertisement for Capitalism and Democracy than the sterile, dystopia that is North Korea where airports and restaurants operate without lights and massive construction projects sit unfinished and crumbling. Freeways are built without exits and all the people listen to the same state run radio broadcast featuring music that sounds like "a cross between a national anthem and the theme song of a children's show".

North Korea has the same kind of creepiness as a cult except on a massive scale where Kim Jung Il acts as patron deity and his smiling visage is ever present in society.
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Format: Hardcover
This short graphic novel by French Canadian Guy Delisle managed to be humorous and frightening at once. It's a story of his two-month stay in Pyongyang while overseeing the production of a popular French children's cartoon. Delisle is not lost on the sad irony of his position, and tells his story simply and without pretense.

The book deals mainly with how frustrating life is in the capital, even for a privileged foreigner like him: bad food, constant surveillance, blaring propanda songs, etc.

It's probably most affecting when you get a real sense of the inner lives of his guide and translator. Both are very buttoned-up, proper and repressed. At one point Delisle lends one of them his copy of "1984"; when the guy returns it a week later he seems very nervous and mutters something about how he "doesn't like science fiction." On the other hand, he rejoices when he gets a bottle of Hennessy as a going-away present.

In the most terrifying episode Delisle asks his guide where all the handicapped people are in Pyongyang, and the guide responds that there aren't any handicapped people in North Korea. Yikes!

Highly recommended to any fan of first-person graphic journalism.
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Format: Paperback
In recent years, North Korea has held a prominent place in our collective imaginations as a tiny, isolated Asian country that shares membership in the "axis of evil" and yet is a country of which little is known. French Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle travels to this enigmatic country for a two month business trip and attempts to unravel some of the mystery and inconsistencies of life in Communist Korea. His experiences are depicted with simplicity and grace in the graphic novel memoir/travelogue, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.

Delisle is sent to North Korea as an animator whose expertise as an animator is valued by the North Koreans. In the process, he learns how things work or don't work in this stark country. He sees and subtly critiques a country where massive buildings go unfinished, highways are without exit ramps, and airports and restaurants are without lights. Delisle's wry humor emerges throughout the story, including telling jokes that are above the heads of his humorless "Comrade Guide" and "Comrade Translator" and his habit of throwing paper airplanes out of his 15th floor hotel window. He shows the grim reality of decades of extreme Communism by depicting the monotony of having only one radio station to listen to, being surrounded by ubiquitous statues and images of dictators Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, and choosing from a rather bland selection of restaurants and food.

In an ironic motif throughout the story, he carries around a copy of Orwell's 1984 that he brought with him and eventually gives to his unsuspecting guide. The reader is constantly reminded of connections between the society Orwell describes in his dystopian classic and the realities of life in present day North Korea.
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Format: Paperback
The most damaging -- but fair -- criticism I've heard of this book came from reviewer E. Paul who said, "The whole book is written in a 'Ha ha, look how strange they are!' way, with no real consideration of the moral and human crimes committed by the North Korean regime or the desperate plight of the North Korean people."

I think that's right, but also badly missing the point. If you are looking for a definitive account of the moral atrocities occurring in N Korea, then a Guy Deslisle graphic novel is not the place to look. This is a book about what it's like to be a foreign visitor in N Korea. It is a tourist's candid impressions of the people and places he encounters in a strange and strangely controlled city. But that doesn't make it lightweight or dismissive. Quite the opposite.

This book is even more poignant and informative than any "definitive account of moral atrocities" would be, precisely because of what it doesn't show you. It is plainly clear that Guy Deslisle is being selectively shown the best and most impressive parts of the country, and yet even those are fraught with signs of fragility and gloom, e.g., the giant pyramid on which work has been halted, leaving a "visibly rotting carcass," or the International Friendship Exhibition dug into the side of a mountain to withstand nuclear attack, built with marble walls but cheap plastic light switches. We are left to imagine what the other 99% of the country must be like.

Instead of giving us dry fact after dry fact, this book introduces us to real people in N Korea-- their fears, their joys, their perspectives. It helps us to understand N Korea by looking beyond the "moral atrocities" to the people who live there. And, in turn, it makes the atrocities more real.
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