Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Delisle is an animator, originally from Canada, who worked mostly in France, and sometime in the past ten years his work took him to one of the most secretive countries on earth: North Korea. He stayed there for two months, overseeing the production of local animators.

Pyongyang is the story of that trip, of Delisle trying to get his work done and to stave off boredom in a country where he was barely allowed to leave his hotel room. He fell in with the small expatriate community -- not hard to do, since there weren't that many of them, they all lived in the same three hotels, they worked near each other much of the time, and their Korean hosts threw them together regularly.

I suspect many people would react to an extended trip in Pyongyang by drinking heavily; that looks like one of the few activities foreigners were allowed to do without excessive control. (As long as they did it in their own hotel bar.) Delisle is good at evoking the dark, gloomy atmosphere -- in a mostly empty hotel with the public-space lights mostly off, in a Stalinist office building with broken elevators and aggressively cheerful but not always helpful local animators, and on the rare excursions, usually to sites with some connection to the cult-of-personality leaders of North Korea.

I've got a vague interest in going just about everywhere in the world, but Pyongyang made me glad that Delisle went to North Korea, and not me. I doubt his time there was all that pleasant, but reading about it afterward was an excellent time; Delisle captures telling moments and the eternal Orwellian watchfulness of the Korean government. He's written another book, Shenzen, about a trip to China -- and I'll have my eye out for that now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'll definitely pick this up-thanks.

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