Review of 'Pyongyang: A Journey in North America'

Pyongyang: A Journey in North America by Guy Delisle

pyongyang.jpg At my recent visit to the Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 at London's Design Museum I noticed in the reading area this graphic novel that I flipped through and found quite interesting. First chance I got I picked up a copy to have a read.

The author is a 37 year old French Canadian cartoonist who is sent to North Korea to supervise a group of animators. Throughout his stay he is closely monitored, assigned a guide who is at his side whenever he leaves his workplace or hotel. Over the months he is in Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea) he experiences a bit of what life is like there from the perspective of an outsider including often exploring the limits of the cage that surrounds him. Much of his musings are about the conflicting message of what he sees around him: Massive museums devoid of visitors; Huge monuments to the greatness of a country that seems often to be in ruin.

The story and events fold in a tone often dripping with irony but with the attitude of someone just trying to do his job and get through his visit to this often mysterious country. I did find some of his early judgemental comments about the political leadership a bit confusing coming as they did seemingly out of nowhere but otherwise I found this quite interesting to read. I have to admit I found it surprising to learn here how easy it was for him to get into the country even bringing in his own music (he dangerously smuggled in a radio but despite scanning the frequencies he found all stations basically the same). Even when he defies his guides and protocol he never seems to be in any real danger. All of this tends to give a somewhat sombre and slow tone to the whole story which ends up consisting mostly of moaning over the loss of various western foods and blandly describing visits to various “important” sites around the country.

Certainly an interesting read about a country that very few people have experience with though somewhat slow, often plodding and melancholy in tone. I found Dear Leader a far more scathing and intriguing exposé. “Pyongyang” is a lot easier to take.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2018-04-29

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 0224079905