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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea [Paperback]

Guy Delisle
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
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Book Description

5 Oct. 2006

Famously referred to as part of the 'Axis-of-Evil', North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. A series of manmade and natural catastrophes have also left it one of the poorest. When the fortress-like country recently opened the door a crack to foreign investment, cartoonist Guy Delisle found himself in its capital Pyongyang on a work visa for a French film animation company, becoming one of the few Westerners to witness current conditions in the surreal showcase city.

Armed with a smuggled radio and a copy of 1984, Delisle could only explore Pyongyang and its countryside while chaperoned by his translator and a guide. But among the statues, portraits and propaganda of leaders Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il - the world's only Communist dynasty - Delisle was able to observe more than was intended of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered.

His astute and wry musings on life in the austere and grim regime form the basis of this remarkable graphic novel. Pyongyang is an informative, personal and accessible look at an enigmatic country.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (5 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224079905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224079907
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 1.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Delisle has drawn an unforgettable picture of Pyongyang" (Time)

"Combining a gift for anecdote and an ear for absurd dialogue, Delisle's retelling of his adventures makes a gently humorous counterpoint to the daily news stories about the axis of evil, a Lost in Translation for the Communist world. Delisle's simple but expressive art works well with his account, humanizing the few North Koreans he gets to know and facilitating digressions into North Korean history and various bizarre happenings involving brandy and bear cubs. Pyongyang will appeal to multiple audiences: current events buffs, Persepolis fans and those who just love a good yarn" (Publishers Weekly)

"News coverage from North Korea is scant - the regime of the world's last true totalitarian state is not exactly welcoming to foreign journalists. But a new graphic novel gives a rare, tragicomic, glimpse into everyday life in the drabbest of world capitals" (Independent)

Book Description

'Great stuff - and proof that the comics panel can be another kind of window on the world' - Guardian

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot On 19 May 2006
When I, browsing at a bookstore, stumbled upon this book I could not help buying it, something I do not regret. The description of expat and foreign tourist life in North Korea is spot on. The picture on the front page with the young girls with forced, ear-to-ear permasmiles playing the accordion at the Mangyondae Children's Palace is almost exactly the same as one of the images that really stuck from the time I visited North Korea in 2002.

Guy Delisle is a 37-year old French Canadian cartoonist and animator working for a French animation studio. As one might expect, the French have been the first to set up shop in North Korea after the regime recently put the door ajar for foreign investors. Among the investors is the animation studio Mr Delisle works for. Animators in South-Korea and now also China have become too expensive.

Delisle was sent to Pyongyang to oversee one such production and in all spent two months there. With him he had a radio and Orwell's 1984. Both were of course strictly prohibited, the latest so much so that customs officer was not even aware of it. When we were the we had nothing much more subversive than a few issues of The Economist. This comic book is the result of Delisle's experiences, and it is a wry and accurate expression of the foreigner-in-North-Korea-experience.

At all times Delisle had to be accompanied by his guide and translator. He was not free to go where he wanted, even a trip to the railway stationed required several day's notice and approval from higher up. The little he got to see was the grandiose, but soulless sights built in the honour of North Korea's Great Leader: Eternal President, Marshal Kim Il-Sung. The pictures of Kim Il-Sung and his son, Dear Leader General Kim Jong-Il hang in all rooms except the lavatories.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointedly shallow. 9 Jan. 2015
By Miss P
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
***Spoliers alert***

I was really disappointed with this book. I read a lot of graphic novels and for some reason, this book has always been highly recommended to me so I decided to buy it for a friend as he is travelling to North Korea soon.
I decided to read it before giving it to my friend and I am glad I did. I find this book a bit patronising and while reading it, I can't help being worried and intrigued about the North Korean characters that surround the author. I may be wrong, but this guy comes across as a bit of a patronising know-it-all who doesn't seem to care about how his actions may get his translator and driver in trouble. Anyway, I carried on reading until the point where he visits the Museum of Imperialist Occupation where he is guided through all the torture imagery by a stunning looking guide... And then the panel below (see piccie). I don't usually ever put a book down without finishing reading it but I found this comment bizarre (lost in translation maybe? Hopefully?) and the book altogether a bit too shallow. However, it has made me curious about finding out more about NK and what it is to live under such strict and isolated regime. Hence, the two stars.

Some people have commented on the style of illustration on the book- I think that one is perfectly fine. It has good timing. Shame about the writing and the lack of seeing beyond what's different.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By F Henwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Guy Delisle is a French-Canadian cartoonist and animator who is 2003 is sent to oversee a team of North Korean animators making cartoons for a French animation studio - the grim frontiers of free trade, as the book's blurb puts it. This is not long after a famine nearly overwhelmed the regime and forced it to appeal for outside help.

This partial opening, just the slightest chink in the country's armour, allows him an opportunity to try and get a glimpse of what really lies beyond the façade of order and unity the country presents to the outside world. Since Delisle cannot leave the hotel unaccompanied by his guides, many of his efforts to this effect lie on his gently probing and teasing his guides to elicit a clue as to what they really think. Occasionally he pokes fun at them - because some of the claims they make are truly risible - but he is not contemptuous of them and many of his reflections are spent trying to fathom what makes them tick. When Delisle observes that don't appear to be any disabled people around, his guide informs him the reason for that is because North Koreans are all born strong and healthy. Hence there are no cripples or anyone even on crutches. Does the guide really believe that? At one point, Delisle lends one his guides a copy of 1984, which somehow was not confiscated by customs. The guide returns it to him a few days' later, visibly flustered. What did he think? Delisle never succeeds in finding out and indeed you know that he is not going to find out. There is no way anyone is going to find out until the regime finally disappears.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars required reading for everyone 27 May 2010
By david
I can't remember how I came across this book, but like the previous reviewers I'm very glad I did. The sparce cartoon style suits the subject matter perfectly. The author is able to convey the sense of an eerie, oppressive atmosphere brilliantly in just a few frames, where I'm sure a whole page of text would not be nearly as effective. Delisle apparently tried to record each day's events in cartoon form (no doubt as a way to kill the boredom), and it's details of the dull minutiae and insane bureaucracy of everyday life as a foreigner in North Korea, unable to travel freely, or do anything really, that makes this book so engaging. I started off dipping into it at random, and then read it cover to cover in one sitting, and it worked perfectly both ways. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether or not you like "graphic novels" or have any interest in North Korea. Brilliant.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite eye opening
Really good story, funny and informative. Tells the story of a mans visit to North Korea for work purposes and all of the crazy rules surrounding it.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. P. R. Musgrave
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not pretty
A fascinating (terrifying?) account of what life is like in North Korea, well worth reading
Published 4 months ago by G. Lennon
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 6 months ago by Fanny
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, clever and original format! Well worth reading!!
I ordered this specifically when all the furore broke about the banned film "The Interview" (Seth Rogen/James Franco) as it had been based on this book. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Pauline Tremain
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reading
Interesting reading. It gives you an idea of what's going on in North Korea. I was pleased to read about Delisle's experience, though it took me a couple of hours to read the whole... Read more
Published 10 months ago by juan caballero
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Travel Stories!
Absolutely love this book! Guy Delisle's travel stories are always insightful and humorous, making this book a very enjoyable read!
Published 11 months ago by Evangeline
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and beautiful
Great book. Not very fast-paced nor filled with action. Very fit for right before bedtime reading. If you want to learn a lot about North Korea, this isn't the book for you. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mathias Nielsen
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Insight
A fascinating travelogue into the world's most secretive state, albeit one now dated a good decade ago when Kim Jong Il still presided. Read more
Published 15 months ago by BookFiend
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not the best
I really enjoyed this as I really like Guy Delisle graphic novels and stories but I must admit that this wasn't my favourite. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Laura82
5.0 out of 5 stars A very true picture
I stayed in the same hotel as the author does in this pictorial account of his time working in North Korea. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Nick Hillman
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