BCL Teen Librarians's Reviews > Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
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U 50x66
's review
Mar 14, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: graphic-novels

In 2001, French cartoonist Guy Delisle travelled to North Korea, a country that few in the Western world ever have a chance to visit, to produce a cartoon series in conjunction with a Korean animation studio.

From an outsider's standpoint, North Korea is quite possibly the strangest country on Earth - the closest real-life societal parallel to that of Orwell's 1984. Sequestered from the rest of the world on an exile largely self-imposed, it is a land where you can get ahead by turning in your neighbor for a minor infraction, where a mindless existence on the part of the masses masks and enables the decadent lifestyles of a handful of officials behind the scenes. Buildings are left half-completed and empty, vans blast state propaganda from loudspeakers, the city is pitch-black at night, and Kim Jong Il's face adorns every surface.

Despite its subject matter, Pyongyang is largely humorous. I even found myself laughing out loud at certain points! Delisle possesses a keen observational power and a sense of irony that allow him to subtly ridicule the absurdity of the regime throughout his stay, all the while seemingly trying to show the human side of the average North Koreans he was in close contact with. One gets the feeling that the task of getting to know them was difficult - the North Korean characters come across as very reserved and, in some cases, as though they've been lobotomized. Along with his complete outsider's perspective, Delisle also injects a bit of Western bias, but this is a personal story.

Artistically, the drawings are in simple, shaded black and white, conveying a sense of the monotony of life in the country. Characters are sketched small and from a distance to add to the feeling of being dwarfed by the monolithic, cold regime.

Pyongyang is a fascinating graphic travelogue that offers a peek into a totalitarian country whose inner workings are usually shrouded in mystery.


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