Written by Zoe Stephens
A country full of mystery, North Korea may not be the biggest fans of Western media presence and documentaries and journalists. Nevertheless, there is a wide range of books available about the country, its politics, and the lives of the people.
But how can you pick out the propaganda filled ones full of half-truths and “facts” that make you pick up the book, and the ones that truly attempt at depicting a land so secretive?
We’ve created this list of informative books to help you get started.
#5 A Capitalist in North Korea,
Written by a Swiss businessman who moved to Korea to set up a pharmaceutical business, this book gives an interesting insight into doing business in not the easiest of countries. Over a 7 year period, you experience with him the problems he comes across, but also the successes.
It also gives a very no-bias, honest insight into life in North Korea – what the people are like, how the system works, and how times change of the years that he lives there with his family. You can also see first hand what it’s like living as an expat in s country that few rarely even visit – and you come out of it feeling relatively positive.
Throughout the book, he takes a refreshing approach of trying to break the stereotype of North Korean’s as brainwashed robots and portray them as real people, with their own individual lives and personalities. He does this by recalling various anecdotes of his life in the mysterious country, and the people he comes across.
This book will certainly make you want to visit the country and meet the people for yourself.
#4 The Accusation,
The Accusation is part of a 750 – page manuscript was smuggled out of North Korea by a Chinese national visiting relatives in North Korea. It’s written by ‘Bandi’ – a pseudonym for a North Korean who may or may not still be living in the country. This book is unique since it is written by a Korean in the country – not a defector moved to the South.
This work of fiction is deeply moving and opens your eyes to the hardships that one confronts when living in dictatorships. The book is made up of 7 individual stories, portraying characters from a wide range of backgrounds – giving the broadest possible insight into life in the country. Although more emotive than informative, it still offers a vivid depiction of life in North Korea.
#3 North Korea Confidential,
Daniel Tudor & James Pearson
If you’re after a quick but informative, non-bias insight into North Korea, this is the book to go for. Purely informative and not dramatized, it touches on history, politics, and culture. Instead of reading about nuclear bombs and missiles that are often the centre of all North Korean related media, you can read a much more balanced view of Korea, and find out about the ins and outs of life in a country so closed off. It does highlight the hardships that many have to endure but also shows the North Koreans as a brave and enduring nation of people who have found new and innovative ways to survive.
Forget your newspaper and magazine articles. This is the real North Korea.
#2 A Kim-Jong-Il Production,
This book reads more like fiction, but it is based on a true story. It recounts the tale of the kidnapping of Madame Choi, a famous South Korean actress, and her ex-husband and film director Shin Sang-ok.
Once Madame Choi is kidnapped, Shin goes in search for her. He then too gets kidnapped, and they both wake up in North Korea. For 5 years they don’t see each other, and are imprisoned and brainwashed. They are finally reunited and find themselves face to face with the then leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. Notoriously film-obsessed, Kim Jong-Il orders them to stay and make films for him. The pair has no choice but to do what they are told, at least at first. You’ll have to read on to find out!
Whilst this book gives an interesting insight into the country, it is less factual and much more dramatised. This makes for an excellent read, but much less real than any of the others.
#1 Only Beautiful, Please: A British Diplomat in North Korea
Similar to ‘A Capitalist in North Korea’, this book recounts the tale of a British diplomat’s life in North Korea and shows an honest representation of the country and the people going by their daily life. It is set from 2006 onwards, so shows some important changes in the country as mobile phones and foreign goods begin to enter the DPRK.
Everard was stationed in Pyongyang but gets to travel throughout the country, giving him a much wider perspective than most. The first part of the book concentrates on the lives of the Koreans and gives some interesting and amusing anecdotes of his experiences on the way. It then moves to talk about the interesting and unique lives of foreigners in North Korea, and finally gives a great North Korea 101 section at the end, including its history since 1945.
This book covers all angles, and is certainly worth a read.