Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea – Book Review


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.

Pyongyang Traffic Girls – Free Photo Book


I made a PDF photo book about the Pyongyang traffic girls.

Right click and save to download for free – looks great when viewed on an iPad!

North Korean Gift Giveaway Contest!

I calculate having traveled to 95 countries (I used higher standards on the count than the Century Club accepts its members by).

I expect to visit my 100th country at some point this year; I have no idea what country it will be, but whoever is the first to make the correct guess by leaving a comment on this post will win a North Korean stamp book and other prizes from the DPRK.

Good luck!

DPRK Kim Jong-il Stamp

Make a guess and win a book of stamps like the one above!

Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country

Kim II-sung Statue

‘Eternal President’ Kim Il- sung – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Joshua Spodek, PhD physicist, MBA, inventor, entrepreneur, and fellow travel buddy from my first trip to North Korea, returned spellbound by the experience, and after a period of study and reflection, wrote the book Understanding North Korea: Demystifying the World’s Most Misunderstood Country.

Joshua joined our trip at the last-minute and entered North Korea with just the basics of background knowledge and with no previous study on the country.  I admit that I was quite skeptical to learn that on his return he wrote a book on North Korea, it’s a country that requires a career of study and dedication to research to understand – at least from a historian’s viewpoint.  Instead, Joshua took his considerable business and entrepreneur experiences, along with his ability as a physicist to break down complex systems into easily understandable parts, and applied these talents to write a book that presents a simple, clear, and nonjudgmental understating of modern North Korea’s motivations.  He accomplishes this by explaining the business concepts of strategy and sustainable competitive advantage, and how these concepts apply to, and help simplify an understanding of not only North Korea, but to each of the relevant players (countries) concerned with the North Korea situation.  These concepts are also used to help explain why those in power in the modern North Korean regime (those born after the Kim Il- sung personality cult was firmly established) resist change, finding it safer to continue and to perpetuate the statues quo.

This book battles the mainstream idea that North Korea’s leaders are crazy and act irrationally, and firmly proves that there is an easily understandable and well developed strategy behind modern North Korea’s actions and motivations.  This book is a great tool but does not replace, only supplements, a firm understanding of North Korean history and human rights issues.  Below is my recommended essential DPRK background reading list:

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag

North of the Dmz: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea