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Seb M (Melbourne VIC AUS)

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A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom
A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom
Price: £15.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An unintentional apology for a heinous regime probably written in innocent good (blind) faith..., 16 Jan. 2015
This book was almost embarrassing to read. It's the account of a Western professional manager posted to the DPRK that ends up as an entrepreneur of sorts. There isn't really a plot or theme...rather quite a lot of apology for the DPRK, a lot of facts, a few good anecdotes and a lot of useful observation. But something doesn't wash reading it.

Abt starts by emphasising that he hasn't been brainwashed and yet his words echoed the scripts of DPRK KITC tour guides in an almost creepily identical way. Just like them he embarks on a surreal journey through irrelevant statistics to start with. The width of the country. The surface area. The latitudes and longitudes and blah blah irrelevant blah. When he got on to boasting about the number of floors in their hotels and the revolving restaurants it was clear the book had either been written by the same people that script their guides, he was married to a guide, or he'd simply become part of the Borg. Even the snidey remarks about 45 stories being more than many Western hotels' echo Kimocracy propaganda that it's absolutely clear where he feels his heart and allegiance lies. The book is full of the snidies based on stretches of logic: 'If the CIA do this, and this happens then it's not fair and North Korea is definitely fairer' - the key part being the latter part is presented as fact with the first part being entirely conditional on the supposition of a man that appears keener to defend the DPRK than question it...he seems to have been there long enough that an attack on the Fatherland is taken personally.

Somehow he describes the IL-62 as safer than modern aircraft - which sounds like a translation error rather than a desperate apology for the DPRK. The book is riddled with these strange counter-intuitive moments when I scratch my head asking 'Did he really really say that?' Can he really be saying that North Korea is more fair?

I wanted to put the book down because it was so apologetic for a dismal regime. By presenting tyranny as humdrum, he does a disservice to many Koreans. It worries me that decision-influencers may read this and think 'Oh - ho hum. These guys have no power, no food and get jailed for dissent...but Felix didn't mind so maybe it's not so bad..and they get rehabilitated after three years of hard labour so maybe we can do business with a regime...never mind he killed his uncle for dissenting...these things happen and Felix could sell the odd tablet so maybe we can too.'

It struck me as not unlike reading some kind of Mosley-issued Tourist Guide to Germany 1939 that recognised 'challenges in the model of government and an evolving policy on race and religion that has some way to go' but extolled the economic progress made under the Third Reich in the face of unfair challenges from Britain and the USSR and spoke of the joys of ordinary German housewives and village churches. Selective to say the least.

I didn't feel I could slate it without reading it cover to cover, and I felt it needed slating.

On the upside, it's full of facts. Facts that are probably true and provide a useful deeper insight into the DPRK. And it's fairly concentrated version. Sort of... an Eccentric's CIA Factbook. And given the crud we read about the DPRK, it's nice to have some facts. It's tempting to take the approach that it's a good counter to the anti-DPRK literature out there. But there's a reason all the literature so far is anti-DPRK or at least grimly realistic. The country is an economic hole, a wormhole to a century ago where people live in a misery lifted by valium (apparently some sold by Abt's company) and propaganda peddled by the government. The country IS 1984, and yet he presents it as a loveable if flawed nation with ample potential waiting to be realised. Presenting it's positives without its downsides IS apology.

By the end I just felt sorry for Abt. He comes across as a socially-displaced Westerner clinging desperately to an alternative sense of identify in Wonderland. He laughs at the Mao-suit wearers whilst saying all the same things they do minus the Chosunun Hanada shouting nonsense. He talks of project challenges, failures but his exit from one is a meagre two sentences long. Something isn't right about this book - it's what he isn't writing!

It's such a tragic read I really don't want to slate it anymore. I just want to say - spare yourself the pain but please send Abt some money or a ticket home!


Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars ' My camera worked fine for a year because I used DX lenses, 14 July 2014
Very promising camera - but do some research before you buy. Google 'D800 focus issues.' My camera worked fine for a year because I used DX lenses. Now I'm using FX, I've wasted thousands of images that came out soft focus at best or focus on entirely the wrong thing. I've had two go's at Nikon Service Centre before working out it's a manufacturing issue that people know about. Nikon didn't think to tell me. Total loss of trust in this brand, worsened by their behaviour over the D600 issues. If I was buying from scratch I'd buy a Canon; and I'd do the same if I was upgrading to full frame again. If I get my money back, I may yet do it anyway.


North Korea Undercover
North Korea Undercover
Price: £5.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most enjoyable read about North Korea and I've read most of them., 17 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is a brilliant mix of travelogue and documentary.

One chapter may be an account of the bizarre experience of travelling there, the next a detailed history of an issue like the gulag. Very easy to read. Perhaps not for academics but well worth reading for those considering travelling to the DPRK, and well worth sharing among friends of those who have been so that people actually believe the surreal experience.

Sweeney is different to other authors on the DPRK in three ways:

a) He's emotional but is not a victim and avoids going over the top in his writing - and this is a subject that warrants emotion but strong emotions tend to actually reduce shock levels in the reader. The crimes of the regime means that first hand accounts from North Koreans tend to read like James Herbert books and pass through the minds value-sieve as if fiction. Sweeney's rational, factual approach combined with openness about his own values makes it easier for the facts to sink in and the reader to be left with the right perception of the DPRK.

b) He presents the facts in a coherent way but doesn't over-intellectualise a topic to the point that the crimes of the state become bland and unemotive.

c) He makes absolutely no apology for the state. Most people other than victims (or their ghost-writers) who write about the DPRK have an ongoing involvement with the state of some kind and tend to write somewhat apologetically. Sometimes fear, sometimes expedience, sometimes necessity, sometimes academic neutrality and sometimes the capacity of our minds to blind ourselves to inconvenient truths. Sweeney clearly doesn't plan to go back so gives you his real perceptions.

If I was thinking about visiting the DPRK, this would be the one book I'd buy.


Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq
Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq
by Rory Stewart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 15 Aug. 2007
This is a very personal account of Stewart's year in Iraq after the coalition victory. Stewart went to the Middle East looking for work and found it as Governorate Coordinator and then Deputy Governorate Coordinator of two provinces; each with its own unique challenges and differences.

He went through some fairly extraordinary experiences such as when his building was mortared and rocketed. Many of the aggressors were also people he had to face day to day on friendly terms. It's got three main themes: the leaders and their followers and the complex dynamics, interactions and challenges including apparently regular changes in police chief through assassination, fear campaigns or otherwise; the siege nature of large portions of his time in Iraq, mortaring, riots and the poor support from the Italians (he really appears not to be impressed with the Italian military); and development and how he interacted with Baghdad in this regard.

This really is a well written exciting and enjoyable story that really illustrates the perversities and complexities of life in a post-war Iraq. Today's enemies are tomorrow's friends - and vice versa.

Stewart writes with enormous detail on what he sees and feels. One feels that he is watching his own life go by with a telescope to zoom in on the minutiae of his own interactions as if they are those of a third party. He recounts levels of detail that most of us would struggle to recall in daily life because we're busy living it.

It is as if he presses 'pause' for each poignant moment, takes a detailed diary note, and then carries on. This ability to slow the pace of life isn't just evident in how he manages to capture incredible levels of detail. It's also apparent in his level headedness and ability to think very hard in a very short time before speaking: where other bright diplomats and soldiers might take the most obvious decision on a complex subject; Stewart always thinks it through before most of us have even reacted intuitively with what we would do.

His experiences are incredible. Extremely unpleasant situations such as long term mortaring, his bodyguards firing from exposed rooftops. He comes across as responding well to stress and providing a calming influence - but writes with such modesty you can't help thinking that he must have done far more than is in the book.

On the development front: this isn't a diatribe against US management, or a self-congratulatory valediction. He's very very balanced and admits to his own mistakes. But he does make clear that he was fighting an uphill battle to 'do the right thing.'

This book is completely different to 'Life In the Emerald City' which is an easier read but far less personal. That book is very racy, very blunt, littered with facts and history and only occasionally uses the first person. This book isn't racy and has a LOT of first person. You feel like you're sitting just behind Stewart's cornea for most of it.

This book is perhaps a little less poetic than Stewart's other book - there is no other main actor in this one; no dogs (well...one but never mind) for Stewart to convey emotion but it's a good book. It's more exciting and more accessible without being an Andy McNab shoot-em-up. It's also probably the first account of its kind since the end of the British Empire in the sixties.

I suspect this isn't a mass-market best seller and will appeal to very specific people. The in-and-out expats who worked in Iraq and yet learned nothing about it may resent Stewart for his candour and non-ethnocentric approach, which can come across as a bit sanctimonious or even supercilious in places. The average reader with no experience of Iraq could struggle with all of the leaders and find it a touch demanding for narrow reward.

But it should find interest in people who genuinely want to make the world a better place, including those who worked in Iraq. And it'll end up being a near-textbook for those interested in the politics of occupation or the interactions between ethnology and politics in a multicultural Muslim country. People interested in Iraq, not least of all Iraqis could well find this interesting.


CHICANE / SOMERSAULT
CHICANE / SOMERSAULT
Offered by westworld-
Price: £10.66

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than expected, 30 July 2007
This review is from: CHICANE / SOMERSAULT (Audio CD)
I was expecting the worst from this album. After reading about the unreleased version, I thought this was destined to be bleak.

The truth is that it's almost impossible to beat Behind The Sun.

But this is actually a good album.

There are a few fairly vanilla tracks that I suspect came from the unreleased album; but there are also some very interesting new ones.

There are some genuinely catchy tracks: Stoned in Love gets better every time you hear it - a very very catchy track. I walked around the whole day with 'Always' and its bizarre haunted vocals in my head. Come Tomorrow and Turning Corners are good too.

Arizona is half-old-Chicane which sounds a bit limp compared to the rest of the album. A bit like taking a track of FFMC and sticking it on Behind the Sun.

The album is definitely more commercial but only marginally less enjoyable than past Chicane fare. I have listened to it about ten times today, and haven't tired...if that's an indication.


The Places In Between
The Places In Between
by Rory Stewart
Edition: Paperback

34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing that leaves the reader wanting more, 29 July 2007
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
This is a good book. I wouldn't put it in my top ten, but it's left me thinking that Stewart's other book will make it to my top ten.

The problem isn't Stewart's writing by any means. He has an incredible ability to characterise people and places with minute but not superfluous detail. He feels and breathes where he visits with a passion that is apparent in every sentence. His writing style is educated, intellectual and involved without being academic. It is a good read.

The problem is the material. This wasn't a reconstructive journey, or one inspired by lust, death or politics. There is history - but one gets the impression Stewart wanted to immerse himself in Afghanistan before he found out the history. And the walk just doesn't give him enough time to immerse himself in any single place.

He has such a gift at reporting on people that giving most characters and places only a page or two scarcely does justice to the potential of this book. And then...well...the sequence of events in most towns appears to be the same: struggle to get accommodated, get questioned, avoid the sharks, be treated without deference.

Stewart does bring in culture - particularly with regards to the Hazara: but I wish this was more of a guide - not literally - but with a little more third person narrative about the people, a little more history than observation. This would have given the reader more to bite off at each interlude - a full education, and a sense of familiarity. Alternatively, a more pacey, less educated style might have brought the reader into the sense of danger without interrupting the tension to detail the tribal hierarchies of the region.

Alternating between an abbreviated history of the people and the tension of a walk through hostile territory didn't do it for me. If this had been any old book, I'd have just moved on to another one half way through: but I stuck with it and became frustrated because Stewart writes so well.

All this said, the book would be highly enjoyable to somebody who already understands Afghanistan and for whom the brief histories were a soothing stroke of the traveller's spine, an allusion to familiarity rather than their entire knowledge of Afghanistan.

This book describes a walk that I would love to have done. And as someone incapable of writing I am in no position to critique a book this good so harshly. I just wish he had given us something more. It's cheeky to ask - but a few minor additions would have gone a long way to easing the reader into relating to the places visited.

Stewart has the gift, and the walk had the potential. This should have been an amazing book but for the simple omissions of pictures of the journey, coloured route maps, coloured terrain and ethnic maps; pictures of the Baburs, and some standlone chapter introductions...

Nevertheless, I'm afraid to say I'd have to recommend you at least start the book and form your own opinion; because if you enjoy the writing of genuine adventurers, this is the best writing I've found this Millenium.


Shooting Dogs [DVD] [2006]
Shooting Dogs [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ John Hurt
Price: £9.14

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching story of Rwanda 1994, 23 Jun. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Shooting Dogs [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Hotel Rwanda was a good film. It opened a grim reality to wide audience, waking people up to the shameful behaviour of the rest of the world in the mid 1990s. But in making the film appeal to the mass market, there was some caricaturing of individuals, some mushing of multiple personalities into single roles which flattened some of the characters and as a result, you didn't feel like you were there. You felt touched...but lightly.

Shooting Dogs is fundamentally the same story. It's about not being able to help everyone; of choosing the lesser of two evils; and the challenges of watching humanity ripped apart. It's about being a stranger where one has felt welcome; and about the sheer fear and fatalism that comes from having ones security withdrawn.

But it takes a very different approach to Hotel Rwanda, focusing on a single incident at a school compound and on a handful of key personalities rather than telling the story of the genocide at a national level through the acts of one man. That said...it's not a claustrophobic film to watch in any way as there is a lot of crowd action.

It's far easier to be sucked into the film and it is very moving. The images are less confronting but the story and the outcomes far more so. One leaves the film not able to remember any key scenes, or recite any of the lines, but a bit shellshocked and thinking that it's an amazing film.

Despite being more forgettable, the film is somehow more tangible - the fear more intense but easier to empathise with (perhaps because it's ramped up more slowly).

The acting is excellent, the dynamic between Dancy and Hurd almost familial and it's a film that works and a strong story.

I personally preferred this to Hotel Rwanda even if it was not as gripping. If you're the kind of person that likes to leave a film touched rather than impressed, this may be a film for you.


Geldof In Africa
Geldof In Africa
by Bob Geldof
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An uplifting surprise, 27 Dec. 2006
This review is from: Geldof In Africa (Paperback)
This book was one of those almost accidental purchases driven by the thought of 24 hours on a plane and a lack of decent reading material in the airport bookstore.

It was an amazing surprise.

If you're sceptical of Geldof, or if you think a Rock star can't write prose, think again.

Geldof writes amazingly, capturing the spirit of the places he visits like some of the best Africa writers. Curiously, his prose is as emotive as Forna, Hartley, Gourevitch, Hanley or any of the other rare authors who capture the raw sense of belonging. He captures the smells, sights and sounds and writes like a man who needs to be in Africa to feel alive.

If you're one of the people who knows what I mean - get the book. In particular get the book because nobody else gets Ethiopia as well as Bob. (Well...Hancock's Sign and the Seal is good to read as you travel around Ethiopia but...).

The book is an absolute pleasure to read and makes a lot of sense. Geldof isn't constrained by political correctness or afro-apologism but is far from a pessimist. He sees the solutions to problems as simply as many of the average people he talks to - and that is uplifting.

Few authors could marry intellectual discourse, storytelling and emotional wandering as well as Geldof does here.

One downside - it does leave one wishing that Geldof could concentrate on one subject for more than a handful of pages because it's good stuff and just as you think you're tucking into a tasty dish...he's on to the next course.

Whilst you're at it, buy the hardcover - the pictures are as good as the text and it's dirt cheap for what it is. Meanwhile, I will be buying shares in Lalibela and Arouane Tour Companies cos once you see the pics, you'll want to go.


All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death
All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death
by P. J. O'Rourke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PJ at his best, 30 Jun. 2004
This is PJ O'Rourke's best book. It's as amusing as his earlier ones but bursting with enjoyable facts.
Since this book, it's been downhill for PJ - but this one makes me laugh and discover new things every time I pick it up.
Buy it.


The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity
The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity
by Michael Maren
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.13

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Dose of Truth, 30 Jun. 2004
The author is well qualified to report on the subject as someone who was part of the African aid-mafia before seeing it for what it really is.
This is an invaluable read for people sick of the self-righteous preachings of people driving 4 x 4s and feeling great whilst they give away the food mountains that serve as the greatest barrier to African economic liberation.
The author really makes you feel part of his journey: when he talks of Mogadishu you can almost feel the cool humid evening breeze and the cold of Italian tiles under your feet.
It's well written and thorough. Those who find emotional salvation in aid-work should not read it as it will severely antagonise and disappoint them - but if you're open minded to rela solutions - get a look!


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