By James Kidd
North Korea – or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, if you prefer – has been a growing source of fascination for the rest of the world since 1948, when “supreme leader” Kim Il-sung began fashioning the “workers’ state” into what’s now widely described as the hermit kingdom.
Dynastic rule has continued with his son, Kim Jong-il, and grandson, Kim Jong-un, who have also perpetuated the tradition of thumbing the national nose at the wider world in general and the United States, in particular.
With the nation again embroiled in geopolitical brinkmanship, Post Magazine picks 10 essential books for a better understanding of North Korea.
Nothing To Envy, by Barbara Demick (2009)
Arguably the best-known book about North Korea, this finalist for the United States’ National Book Award and winner of Britain’s Samuel Johnson Prize profiles six ordinary North Koreans trying to escape from the provincial town of Chongjin. Read more
Source: South China Morning Post
Sungju Lee was born in Pyongyang, North Korea. He had an idyllic childhood with a good home, a bright future, and parents who cared deeply for him. But as he describes in his memoir (written with Susan McClelland), his life was abruptly turned upside down and became harder than he could have imagined after his father fell out of favour with the country’s brutal regime.
As a child, Lee never questions the regime or its leader (first Kim Il-sung and then Kim Jong-il); his greatest dream is to become a general and serve his country. Then he arrives home one day to be told his family is leaving on a “northern vacation.” Lee, who is 11, moves north to Gyeong-seong, where he is immediately shocked by the differences between the capital city where he grew up and what he sees in the rest of the country.
Lee describes these events from his childhood perspective; as such, he only gradually realizes he has moved into a famine area. This drastic shift in circumstances means that, despite a burning desire to study, Lee must leave school to help his parents in their daily searches for food. As the situation becomes increasingly desperate, first Lee’s father and then his mother disappear. Before he reaches his teens, Lee is on his own. Read more
From first hand accounts of gulag survivors to memoirs of defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books on the secretive kingdom: The Guardian
You can learn a lot about a country from literature and, when it comes to North Korea, the appetite for information is huge. From first hand accounts of prison camps survivors to defectors once part of the top echelons of government, here’s our pick of the best books to get you started.
The story of Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who spent 10 years in the notorious Yodok camp because his family was under suspicion for having lived in Japan. Billed as “part horror story, part historical document, part political tract”. Kang defected to South Korea a few years after his release, and went on to work as a journalist for Chosun Ilbo. Read more
We are now entering the third era of miscomprehending North Korea. For 50 years, until Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, we were stymied by his “self-reliance” (juche) republic. Then, until Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, we were flummoxed by his son’s “military-first” (songun) Korea. Now, we are confounded by his grandson Kim Jong Un’s “dual-progress” (byungjin — standing for progress ineconomic development and nuclear capability) Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Read more
Researcher finds Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung both credited with fiercely ideological but ‘quite enjoyable’ tales: The Guardian
From Madonna to Barack Obama, celebrities and politicians have long been tempted to dabble in the world of children’s books – but their output pales in comparison to the “ultra” violent tales for children ostensibly written by North Korea’s former leaders Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung, according to an Australian academic. Read more