Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Quebec City-born animator Guy Delisle spent two months in North Korea working for a French animation company. During his stay in Pyongyang, the capital of this isolated and remote country, he experienced first-hand its Stalinist-state.

In this excellent graphic novel, the reader is presented with a portrait of a country that lives in a completely different reality from the rest of humanity. In one particularly chilling section, Delisle is reading George Orwell's 1984 while staying in a creepy, run-down hotel built for foreigners. The juxtaposition between the fictitious dictatorship described by Orwell and the real-life horrors of North Korea (e.g. constant state control; prison camps; outrageous state propaganda that would be funny if not so tragic) was particularly disturbing.

This is a good work that provides a rare picture of this hermetic communist state. Overall, the animation is pretty good and the story captivating. If I had one criticism, however, it would be that Delisle's doesn't address the role that some Western countries have played in North Korea. For instance, on several occasions, the reader is told about how a French company worked on a certain project in the country. While critical of China's role in North Korea, the book does not comment about France's business relationship with Pyongyang. Given that this book is meant to be a personal memoir of his trip, perhaps this criticism is a bit unfair. Nevertheless, this thought did cross my mind after I finished the book which, overall, is quite good.

4 out of 5 stars