Translator: Helge Dascher
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly Books
Pub. Date: 2003, 2007, 2010
Genres: Travelogue, Graphic Novel
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
After reading Hostage by Guy Delisle last year, I wanted to read more of his graphic novels, which brought me to Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. This one focuses on the Delisle’s adventures while working at an animation studio in Pyongyang. He deals with corrections to animations, being followed everywhere, and seeing attractions and behaviors that glorify the leader of North Korea. This travel memoir gives an unsettling look at North Korea.
He stays in a designated hotel with limited entertainment and eating options. He makes the most of his stay by correcting hand-drawn animations, flying paper airplanes, visiting designated tourist attractions with his translator, and observing those around him. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of travel books, I found this entertaining. At the same time, I wanted to see growth in Delisle or one of his guides, but it wasn’t there. That’s why I took this down a star.
Delisle’s art style is minimalist and effectively shows the information he is trying to convey. It’s easy to tell characters apart, and the settings are clear. It also allows him to make some quick observations that are incongruent with the message. Some of the best parts were the pop quizzes about who is the traitor, and the explanations were … unexpected and terrifying.
For all the punishments for taking photos of unauthorized things in North Korea, I am surprised that illustrations were not classified as “dangerous.” There was even mention about confiscating someone’s film. Anyway, the propaganda is staggering to read and see, even if this is fifteen years old. There’s blatant rewriting of history in extreme measures and the crazy museums that present everything as somehow connected to the president.
If you don’t know much about North Korea beyond the arguing between Kim Jong-un and Trump, this graphic novel may give you more background behind the country. If you generally like nonfiction graphic novels, I recommend Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea.