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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea Paperback – May 1, 2007
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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.
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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My overall reaction - to the story - is WHOA. North Korea is every bit as freaky as the rumours, certainly the little bit the Delisle was allowed to see. (other reviewers have wasted time whining that all the author did was hang out in hotels with other foreigners- hey morons, did you miss the point? He wasn't able to do anything else!)
Now here comes the disturbing bit- I lived in South Korea some years ago, and Delisle's North Korea is not entirely dissimilar. "volunteer" is a word the South Koreans did not understand either - saying "no" to a proposed volunteer activity gets you raked over the coals. Fine, it wasn't a forced activity for the state, but not participating got you black balled. There was a lot of enforced group-think going on, and while it did not reach the propaganda extremes of what Delisle saw in Pyongyang, it wasn't a million miles away either.
This book was informative - it explained the Berlin subway carriages I saw in Pyongyang's subway in a recent documentary! Any book that can complement other material is worth the price! Bon travail, Guy!
This book is essentially an illustrated travelogue, and a well-illustrated one at that. It was always enjoyable to read and engaging. Not only that, at the end of that day it offered better understanding of a few things in the DPRK. He documents the life of a foreigner with more access to the country than a diplomat or journalist but not as much as an NGO worker. So the life of the medium/long-term expat in Pyongyang is exposed like never before. Via that, recent developments in "openness" are shown for what they really are.
Pyongyang is a strange strange place and Delisle exploits that for humor as well as a poignant commentary about the poor people who suffer from that strangeness.
Aside from describing life in North Korea, it opened my eyes to a lot of what goes on in the animation industry--the offshoring as well as the technical challenges of bringing a cartoon to life.
I lent my copy to other members of my family--some avid comic readers and others for whom this was their first comic--and they all really enjoyed it. So I recommend it, especially for the discounted amazon price.
But I believe it describes North Korea better than a narrative could, the insanity of that nation brought to life to see. I read 1984 about 20 years ago, and I am re-reading it now. It amazes that a society of millions could exist on this planet in a world which is more insane than that in 1984.
This book is utterly outstanding, albeit sad that such a place exists.
The Thought Police are everywhere.