This is the second graphic novel I have read by Guy Delisle, after recently falling in love with Jerusaslen. This book follows his two month stay in North Korea, where he was working for an animation studio from France, which was subcontracting work to North Korea.
While this novel does not have the insight that Jerusalem does, it is mostly because he was not allowed to see what life was really like in North Korea. His stay was controlled from the moment he got off the plane, where he met his translator/ guide who stayed with him for the duration, accompanying him almost every time he left the hotel.
The life of an average North Korean remained mysterious and what Delisle shows us is all that a visitor is allowed to see. He is living in a hotel on an island in the centre of Pyongyang where all outsiders have to stay, and it is one of the few buildings in the city that uses electric light during the night.
In a small act of rebellion he smuggles a hand held radio into the country along with a copy of 1984 which he gives to his guide to read! As ever, it’s the small details he sees of the lives of those around him that stay with you; that everyone wears a pin to their leaders (father or the son, Kim Jong-Il or Kim Jong-Un, or both!) or how the paintings of the leaders are tilted downwards, so the loom over the viewer. The country he portrays is one that is ruled by fear but also one where the only way to get ahead is through acts of loyalty to the system.
This is a modest size book at just 176 pages and as such is quite a quick read. It does give the reader a good insight into life in the country and what the various diplomats and NGO workers get up to. Another gem of a book from Delisle, who is someone I’ll continue to follow.
This book was first published in 2004 and is from Drawn and Quarterly.
You also get to play the fascinating game of ‘Spot the spy’ a number of times through the novel! You can never be too vigilant, as spies are everywhere!