Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

by Guy Delisle

Considering my long-time interest in the incredulity of North Korea and Kim Jong Il, I'm surprised I never read this book sooner.

Delisle went to Pyongyang to work with an animation studio involved in producing French cartoons, and upon his return, published this graphic novel as his memoir. As is to be expected from a foreigner actually permitted to travel to this country, his time there is highly managed by his different guides and translators, who are always very careful to spout the party line (unless they actually believe it - Delisle is never quite certain).

The book is an amusing accounting of various deprivations and absurdities - the lights are only on in the hotel lobby when delegates visit from other countries, a highway was built leading only to a museum in the countryside, with no exits and consequently no traffic, and so on.

Delisle paints a picture of an incredibly paranoid and absurdist regime, more interested in maintaining a portrait of paradise than actually feeding and helping its people. I feel sorry for the few North Koreans who are allowed to interact with outsiders - for them the lies upon which the country teeters must be so obvious.

Delisle does a great job of representing the monuments of the country in a series of full-page pictures that introduce different chapters. Throughout the rest of the book, the art is more cartoony than I usually enjoy, but at the same time appropriate for this type of project.

The narrative jumps around a lot, almost as if it was written as a series of two-page vignettes, but the book is gripping as it exposes a place few will ever be able to visit in its current state.

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