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Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea
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Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  123 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
In 1987 Michael Harrold went to North Korea to work as English language adviser on translations of the speeches of the late President Kim Il Sung (the Great Leader) and his son and heir Kim Jong Il (then Dear Leader and now head of state). For seven years he lived in Pyongyang enjoying privileged access to the ruling classes and enjoying the confidence of the country's you ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published July 30th 2004 by Wiley (first published January 1st 2004)
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Feb 22, 2010 Hy rated it it was ok
While there is some really good, interesting material on what it is like to live in North Korea for many years the author is also a whiny little bitch. He can't comprehend how they didn't embrace him fully and it hurt his fucking feelings. I finished it, but barely. The author's 'voice' is not one I feel the need to ever hear again.
Jeff C.
Feb 27, 2013 Jeff C. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently completed Barbara Demick's wonderful book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea", I was eager to start this book and gain the perspective of a westerner living in North Korea. I was left disappointed. What I gained was the perspective of a comparatively pampered foreigner whose social life consisted of drinking beer in the isolation of the bars in Pyongyang’s restrictive foreigner hotels.

In stark contrast to Ms. Demick’s presentation of the lives of ordinary North Korea
International Cat Lady
Dec 28, 2010 International Cat Lady rated it did not like it
Seriously?? Seven years in North Korea and 400+ pages of text and nothing remotely interesting happens. Either this fellow led the most boring life possible in North Korea, or he simply chose to write about... nothing for 400+ pages. I can't believe I finished it. Not only was it duller than dull, but it's interwoven with so much North Korean party-line propoganda that half the time I wanted to throw the book across the room. I find North Korea fascinating - and found this book the exact opposit ...more
Sep 02, 2008 Chris rated it really liked it
Fascinating! In 1987, a British man named Michael answers an ad placed by the North Korean government to live in North Korea and translate the speeches of Kim Il Sung and later Kim Jong Il into english. From the moment he arrives at the airport, Michael (the author) is presented a certain view of the country by Mr. Choe, later revealed to be a skilled manipulator and one of North Korea's senior political figures. As time goes on, Michael gradually becomes sympathetic to the North Korean people.. ...more
Jun 13, 2012 Scott rated it did not like it
Not very good. Do not start here if you are just starting to read up on North Korea.

The author apparently spent 7 years in North Korea doing nothing other than drinking beer in various hotel bars. I cannot help but wonder what really was the authors motive for staying in North Korea for 7 years. He seems very apolitical and gives the impression that he does not sympathize with communist ideology like some of the other foreigners he encounters in North Korea. The fact that his job was editing En
Mar 16, 2012 Hanna rated it really liked it
This author has a very unique experience. It was great that he wrote a book. I appreciate his honesty about his own perspective, and that he is attempting to be nuanced and put his Western perspective aside while in North Korea. As biographies go, this one was highly readable and fascinating. It's fascinating to realise that he would have quite happily settled down in North Korea, if it hadn't been for the fact that they eventually booted him out. He seems in two minds about his experience, and ...more
May 05, 2013 Valarie rated it it was ok
The main reason this book was published is because the author had an experience that almost no one else can understand. As memoirs go, however, it is disorganized and dull. Harrold seems intent on describing every incident that occurred in his time in North Korea, adding up to 400 pages of complaints, with the occasional interesting event. While he often claims to be aware of his privileged status as a foreigner, the statements of guilt and sympathy come off as insincere. The book would have bee ...more
Feb 02, 2010 Adrian added it
Harrold spent seven years in North Korea between 1987 and 1995 as an editor of Kim Il Sung's work. No great stylist Harrold is effective in getting across what living in this isolated state was like. North Koreans are not so unlike South Koreans. They take enormous pride in their country's very ordinary attributes. I wearied of international political analysis. Harrold is also far too sympathetic to the North Korean view of things, understandable for someone who lived there, but it makes me wond ...more
Dec 21, 2008 Alex rated it it was ok
As interesting as his viewpoint is, I couldn't recommend the writing. I found myself looking for some greater theme to his chapters and couldn't.

I wanted to find dates and specific instances, to be able to draw out a map of Pyongyang in my mind, but couldn't sink into the stodgy writing long enough to do so.

Am I glad I read it? Yes.
Will I reread it? Quite possibly.
Did I enjoy it? Not thoroughly.
Dec 01, 2011 Kris rated it really liked it
I've got an odd fascination with The North Korean train wreck, and this story struck me as fascinating because it was a pretty normal guy i could identify with living in North Korea for a substantial amount of time. True that his story is not full of adventure but i think that is part of the story of the bleakness of the country and the omnipresence of the "great leader"
Aug 13, 2013 Daniel rated it liked it
Well-written, but told us very little. But I doubt that any foreigner could glean much. Harrold provides as much as first-hand experience as a foreigner can get in a country where the population is heavily controlled.
Jun 01, 2009 Laura rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle-lendable
On the Kindle lendable list.
Aug 29, 2007 Abigail rated it liked it
Not my favorite book about North Korea, still--I recommend reading Harrold's book for minute DPRK details. Just ignore the bad writing.
Didn't get through the whole thing. Not because it wasn't good, but because I got side tracked and then couldn't get back into it.
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