Former Monty Python’s star Michael Palin aims with North Korean Journal to do for Pyongyang what The Life of Brian did for the New Testament. He almost succeeds.
Julius Caesar wrote that “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” So too is Anna Fifield’s The Great Successor.
When Travis Jeppesen, 37-year-old writer and art critic, spotted the ad offering a one-month study program in North Korea, he didn’t hesitate. Not that he was any wide-eyed naif: he’d visited four times before. But he was done with package tours, with being shuttled from monument to tedious monument. If he were to return to the DPRK (the country’s official name, i.e. the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”), it would have to be for a different sort of trip.
The traditional nursery rhyme goes:
Two little Soldier boys playing with a gun; One shot the other and then there was One. One little Soldier boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Pyongyang and Naypyidaw were, Andray Abrahamian claims, the last of the pariah states.
Stephan Haggard’s and Marcus Noland’s first joint venture was the 2007 Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, the best overview of the hunger that led to the death in slow motion death of a million people in the mid- to late-90s. Hard Target does a similar authoritative analysis of the last quarter-century’s attempts to shepherd Pyongyang—with carrot and stick—away from prickly hostility into the warm embrace of the global economic and political order. Their conclusion is neither sanctions nor inducements work, even if the latter have proved marginally more successful than the former.
North Korea is changing. Pyongyang is a dynamic city where the last decade has seen the skyline transformed at the behest of Kim Jong Un with lines of new tower blocks and colour painted across his father and grandfather’s monochrome urban landscape. The city’s ambience and the lives of those with money has been transformed with funfairs, and water parks, shopping centres, coffee bars, beer festivals and package holidays. Science is king with new museums and centers devoted to natural history, technology and weaponry. Outside in the countryside change comes slowly, while in the Northeast “rust belt” industrial revival is even slower. They are the source of the economic migrants fleeing for a better life in the South.
“Bandi” is Korean for “firefly”. It is the pseudonym chosen by the writer of the seven short stories and two poems now gathered in The Accusation, translated into English by Deborah Smith.