Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Soon as I'd finished Delisle's new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, I had to stop at my local Comics shop and hunt up one of his earlier travelogues. I want them all but, paying retail, I limited myself to just one more, for now. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea proved irresistible. (What, I ask you, are the odds of "Pyongyang" and "irresistible" in the same sentence in any other context?) If anything, I enjoyed my stay in Hermit Kingdom almost more than my earlier time spent in the Capital of Conflicting Faiths.
Here is the perfect marriage of subject, style and flat-out stupid fun. How's that? Well, it's true. The only thing likely to be less fun than visiting Pyongyang would be either living there or anywhere else in the Orwellian waste that is the world's only hereditary Communist monarchy. No fun to be had, from the look of it, anywhere in that terrible place. That said, seeing a rather dispirited French Canadian animator interacting for a few weeks or months with his own little cadre of North Korean minders, translators, animators, subordinates, drivers and such, is just fraught with inherently funny miscommunications of all sorts, intentional and otherwise. What constitutes a "day off" in North Korea is alone worth the price of the book. Ah, the International Friendship Exhibition!
Delisle takes Orwell's 1984 with him on this trip. He quotes from the novel, appropriately enough, more than once. (At one point he gives his copy to his translator/minder, who returns it thereafter with great relief, by the way.) It may seem a little too on-the-nose, but Orwell's sense of tragic absurdity does rise off these pages from nearly every frame, and Delisle's comics are, if anything more right than almost any more elaborate narrative when it comes to capturing the blank ridiculousness of the place.
Pyongyang deserves cartoons. Cartoons are the North Korean reality. Delisle could not do better.
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