North Korea might be the most secretive and totalitarian nation in the globe, as nicely as the wackiest. As a result, it inspires some of the ideal fiction and nonfiction, so the upside of the danger of nuclear war is an excuse to dip into literature that gives glimpses of this other globe — and some insights into how to deal with it.
Thousands of North Koreans have fled their homeland considering that the famine of the late 1990s, and several are writing memoirs recounting their everyday lives and extraordinary escapes. A major example is IN ORDER TO Reside: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (Penguin, paper, $17) by Yeonmi Park, with Maryanne Vollers. Park is a young lady whose father was a cigarette smuggler and black market place trader. As a girl, she believed in the regime (as did her mother), for life was steeped in propaganda and anti-Americanism. Even in her math class, “a common difficulty would go like this: ‘If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?’”
What opened Park’s eyes was in part a pirated copy of the film “Titanic.” The government tries tough to ban any foreign tv, internet or even music, and North Korean radios, which don’t have dials, can get only regional stations. But the black marketplace fills the gap, with handymen who will tweak your radio to get Chinese stations, and with illegal thumb drives full of South Korean soap operas.
I’m among these who argue that we in the West ought to do far more to support this sort of smuggling, due to the fact it is a way to sow dissatisfaction. Indeed, what moved Park was the love story in “Titanic”: “I was amazed that Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were willing to die for love, not just for the regime, as we had been. The notion that individuals could choose their own destinies fascinated me. This pirated Hollywood film gave me my initial small taste of freedom.”
In the finish, Park’s father was arrested for smuggling, and the family’s life collapsed. Park and her sister went hungry and had to drop out of college, and she survived consuming insects and wild plants.
So at age 13, Park and her mother crossed illegally into China — and immediately into the hands of human traffickers who had been as scary as the North Korean secret police. They raped her mother and ultimately Park as nicely, and each struggled in the netherworld in which North Koreans are stuck in China — due to the fact the Chinese authorities regularly detain them and send them home to face prison camp. Park and her mother were fortunate, lastly managing to sneak into Mongolia and then on to South Korea.
Another effective memoir is THE GIRL WITH SEVEN NAMES: A North Korean Defector’s Story (William Collins, paper, $15.99) by Hyeonseo Lee, with David John. She is from Hyesan, the very same town as Park. It is an location on the Chinese border exactly where smuggling is rampant, where men and women know a bit about the outdoors planet and where disaffection, consequently, is higher than average.
Nevertheless, Lee’s residence, like every single house, had portraits of the country’s 1st two leaders, Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, on the wall. (The grandson now in energy, Kim Jong-un, hasn’t yet created his portrait ubiquitous.) Lee starts her story recounting how her father dashed into the household property as it was burning to rescue not family valuables but rather the portraits of the first leaders. There’s an entire genre of heroic propaganda stories in North Korea of individuals risking their lives to save such portraits.
Like other youngsters, Lee grew up in an atmosphere of formal reverence for the Kim dynasty. At supper she would say a sort of grace — to “Respected Father Leader Kim Il-sung” — before choosing up her chopsticks.
“Everything we learned about Americans was damaging,” she writes. “In cartoons, they were snarling jackals. In the propaganda posters they have been as thin as sticks with hook noses and blond hair. We had been told they smelled negative. They had turned South Korea into a ‘hell on earth’ and have been preserving a puppet government there. The teachers never ever missed an opportunity to remind us of their villainy.
“‘If you meet a Yankee bastard on the street and he offers you candy, do not take it!’ one particular teacher warned us, wagging a finger in the air. ‘If you do, he’ll claim North Korean children are beggars. Be on your guard if he asks you something, even the most innocent queries.’”
Hmm. No wonder my attempts at interviewing North Korean youngsters have by no means been extremely fruitful.
Lee escaped to China at age 17 and started a new life in Shanghai but remained in touch with her household. 1 day her mom called from North Korea. “I’ve got a handful of kilos of ice,” or crystal meth, she mentioned, and she asked for Lee’s help in selling it in China. “In her planet, the law was upside down,” Lee says, explaining how corruption and cynicism had shredded the social fabric of North Korea. “People had to break the law to live.”
It’s fair to wonder how correct these books are, for there’s some incentive when selling a memoir to embellish adventures. I don’t know, and in the case of “In Order to Reside,” skeptics have noted inconsistencies in the stories and raised genuine questions.
So how did North Korea come to be the most bizarre country in the globe? For the history, one cannot do better than Bradley K. Martin’s magisterialBelow THE LOVING CARE OF THE FATHERLY LEADER: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin’s Griffin, paper, $29.99). Martin recounts how a minor anti-Japanese guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung came to be installed by the Russians as leader of the half of the Korean peninsula they controlled soon after Globe War II. Martin discovers that Kim’s father was a Christian and a church organist, and Kim himself attended church for a time. That didn’t final, and Kim later banned pretty significantly all religion — though he became one thing of a god himself, really a trick for an atheist. But do North Koreans genuinely think in this “religion”?
Judging from defectors I’ve interviewed and much of the literature on North Korea, several do — specially older folks, farmers and those farther from the North Korean border. That is partly a tribute to the country’s shameless propaganda, which B.R. Myers explores in his interesting book, THE CLEANEST RACE: How North Koreans See Themselves — And Why It Matters (Melville House, paper, $16). He notes that North Korea created a poster showing a Christian missionary murdering a Korean kid and calling for “revenge against the Yankee vampires” — at the very same time that the United States was the country’s single biggest donor of humanitarian aid. Myers argues that North Koreans have focused on what he calls “race-based paranoid nationalism,” which includes bizarre suggestions about how Koreans are “the cleanest race” — hence the title — bullied and persecuted by outsiders.
For a more sympathetic view of North Korea’s emergence, verify out numerous books by Bruce Cumings, a University of Chicago historian, like KOREA’S Location IN THE SUN: A Modern History (W.W. Norton, paper, $19.95). Cumings argues that North Korea is to some degree a genuine expression of Korean nationalism. I consider Cumings is nuts when he says, “it is Americans who bear the lion’s share of the responsibility” for the division of the Korean peninsula. But his perform is worth reading — unless you have high blood stress, in which case seek the advice of a physician 1st.
Whatever the uncertainties about the accuracy of recent North Korean memoirs, it is completely clear that some stories about North Korea are fabricated — due to the fact they’re fiction. Today’s political crisis with Pyongyang is a wonderful excuse to read Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON(Random Property, paper, $17), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2013. Johnson tells the story of a military man turned prisoner turned celebrity turned villain, dealing for a although with utterly confused American guests — an account so implausible and bizarre that it’s a best narrative for North Korea.
The other fiction that I’d advise is the Inspector O series by James Church, the pseudonym of a well-respected Western intelligence professional on North Korea. Inspector O is a North Korean police officer who investigates murders, a bank robbery and a variety of other offenses, periodically dealing with foreigners and turning down probabilities to defect.
Inspector O is a complicated, nuanced figure who understands that the regime he serves is corrupt, brutal and mendacious, but he remains loyal. That’s because he is a deeply patriotic and nationalistic Korean, and he resents the patronizing scorn of bullying Westerners. I think a lot of North Korean officials nowadays are an echo of the conflicted nationalist Inspector O.
Published at Mon, 01 Jan 2018 10:00:28 +0000