Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea – Book Review

Cover_of_Pyongyang_by_Guy_Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

I have never been a fan of graphic novels, but recently I read and enjoyed Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.

Guy Delisle worked in Pyongyang as a project manager for a French animation company in the early 2000’s. The outsourced animation projects he oversaw seemed to run themselves, and finding himself without much to do, Guy busied himself by sketching scenes of Pyongyang and documenting instances of culture shock he encountered.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is witty, and fair (I believe) to what the experience must have been like as an expat there in the early 2000’s. His portrayal of Pyongyang’s unique buildings and architecture is spot on, and I found myself reminiscing over the many little details of Pyongyang he sketched: 50’s era Hungarian buses with star embalms, each star indicating 5,000 accident free driving miles, ladies of Pyongyang wearing socks hiked up over their nylons, and fly swatting waitresses. Even the lonely (and endangered – so I’m told) turtle in the giant fish tank at the Yanggakdo Hotel bar is a recurring character.

For North Korea watchers not fortunate to have visited the country, perhaps the most useful sketches from Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea are of Guy’s visit to the International Friendship Exhibition, a site where interior photography is prohibited.

It’s a shame Guy never visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and Mausoleum; his sketches would have been quite valuable as interior photography is also prohibited there.

For fans of graphic novels, and for those waiting to properly fill out their North Korean book collection, I certainly suggest picking up Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.

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8 responses

  1. I borrowed that book from a friend, and it was pretty awesome. I didn’t realize though that he has other books. This one on “Neglectful Parenting” looks fun.

    September 12, 2013 at 6:58 pm

  2. I love Guy Delisle. I suggest you read his other books, Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem are really spectacular. He gives a really good sense of what it is like to be in a land so different from what most westerners are used to.

    September 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

  3. James

    I was disappointed with this book. I was expecting something a more insightful. Instead he resorts to mocking the people and situations he encounters. While there is plenty to denigrate with respect to the leaders and regime he seemed to focus his arrogance and derision on ordinary people going about their jobs and lives.

    September 13, 2013 at 11:39 am

  4. I definitely understand your point of view, but I do feel the book was fair to what it was like when he was there in the early 2000’s – as I had pointed out. If this story represented 2013 DPRK, I probably wouldn’t have been able to recommend it.

    I do prefer Guy’s point of view and presentation compared to the early 2000’s Vice guide look at the DPRK.

    September 13, 2013 at 1:56 pm

  5. James

    Fair enough, but my first trip was in 2003 and this book was published after that so when I ran across it I thought it would be a very interesting way to provide insight into the country and people and I was left disappointed. I probably think this way because, especially at the Yanggakkdo, I saw the same things he saw and maybe dealt with some of the same people. Like you, I was fascinated by the country, mainly in people’s day to day experience and how they viewed the world. I never saw anything in the personalitiies and the daily lives of people that deserved the mocking and contempt that Delisle provided.

    Interestingly, I probably would have been more receptive to the book if I had first saw it after my final trip in 2008. I noticed then that some of the things I had thought interesting and had infinite patience for on earlier trips, had become less interesting and challenged my patience.

    September 13, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    • Wish I could have seen things in 2003, then I wouldn’t have to go on assumptions, since my first experiences base line at 2011.

      September 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm

  6. James

    Actually I think your assumption was valid re the life of an expat. Delisle was in DPRK as an “expat” doing a job, while I was just a curious tourist in for a week. There is a different mind set and I think an “expat” is much more likely to take a more critical, cynical view.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

  7. Reblogged this on Interesting Books and commented:
    Back in August I reviewed Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, which can be read here: http://wp.me/p3mys6-2N . His other work Pyongyang is no less interesting or well done. I’m posting this review of his work from the blog American in North Korea due to the fact that the author of this blog and review has actually be in the DPRK and has experienced a lot of what Mr. Delisle experienced during his stay a few years ago. I hope you’ll enjoy this review.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:17 am

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