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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real North Korea, 27 July 2013
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This review is from: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (Hardcover)
Andrei Lankov does a fine job in showing what works in North Korea and what doesn't and what we might expect to happen in the next 20 years or so.

The North Korean government is often portrayed as a bunch of loonies or the world's last rogue state. When you start reading the book you will quickly discover that it is anything but that. The author starts off with detailing how well Kim Il-Sung took over the country and what an excellent job he has done economics-wise. Lankov is fairly straightforward in his opinion on the matter. Having lived in Pyongyang also helps.

Chapter Two deals with the transformation of the economy under Kim Jong-Il, not that the chap desired for that to happen, I suppose. What strikes me so hilarious about this chapter is that North Korea is now probably more of a market economy than quite a few of the states of the European Union. I am not surprised that the country's present Government would like to go back to `the good old days' of the 1980s, but the author shows how well that would work.

The nuclear issue and how well it can be used to prise aid out of `the West' is dealt with at length.

The most interesting bit of the book I found the author's thought on North Korea in the next 20 years. There are also several scenarios on how the North and the South might find together. You will have to decide for yourself how likely you find any of these. I would agree with the author that the present system in North Korea will go with a bang rather than reform gradually, but I think that many of his figures are too low. German unification in 1990 was estimated to cost anything up to 800 bn Deutschmarks (roughly 400 bn Euro). So far the German government has spent about ten times as much. During the 1990s, investment banks in Asia would regularly quote unification cost estimates of up to USD 6 trn. One thing is certain though the cost estimates will remain a hotly debated issue right up to the day when the wallets need to opened.

Included in the narrative are grey boxes - let the colour not put you off - with additional information like North Korean math questions, salaries or women in politics to name a few. It is incredible what a politicised subject mathematics can be.

All told I found this book a page turner. I really enjoyed the many comments Andrei Lankov makes about the regime in question. Some of the grey boxes are quite bizarre.
There is a whole host of books on North Korea and I have read and reviewed quite a few of those in these pages. I am at present reading Andrei Lankov's North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea, which strike me like stories from small-town North Korea.
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