Trying to Understand North Korea

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Trying to Understand North Korea

North Korea is a topic that is sometimes on the minds of people today as we try to understand this mysterious country which now has nuclear weapons and a seemingly unpredictable leader. These books may be helpful to you as you seek to better understand North Korea.
 
The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves – and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers
Reading this book is like an imaginary trip to a land where up is down and down is up. You could never imagine that such a country really exists. North Koreans are taught that they are the most morally pure race on earth, and they pity everyone who isn’t them. When the U.S. gave them emergency food assistance during their famine in the '90s, the government told their people that we sent it to them because we were so terrified of their powerful leader. Many problems are answered with “We didn’t follow the teachings of our leader closely enough.” As you read, you begin to understand why normal negotiations have never worked with North Korea. This book won’t make you feel good, but you will at least understand the issues a bit better.
 
North Korea's Hidden Revolution by Jieun Baek
News of the world outside their borders does sneak in to North Korea. The impact it has is often quite different from what one would expect but it does sneak in and that makes this book more hopeful. They have had almost no contact with the outside world until recently. This book is based on information from recent defectors and as such is a good source for finding out what is going on inside North Korea. The author is Google’s expert on North Korea.
 
Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim
The author is an American woman born in South Korea who spent two semesters teaching English to sons of the elite of North Korea. Surprisingly, these young men seldom get to see their families and lead very regimented lives. The book is a quick read and it does give a feel for what tomorrow’s leaders of North Korea will be like.
 
In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park
What does a girl do when she’s told that the leader of the country can read her mind? Author Yeonmi Park can tell you. She escaped North Korea at age 13, and in 2016, she published this book telling what she went through there. Her escape story is harrowing, and her family’s motivation for leaving was primarily survivalavoiding starvation and brutal abuse.
 
All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea by Magnus Bartas and Fredrik Ekman
If you like your serious reading mixed with humor, the last two books on this list are for you. All Monsters Must Die is not full of research or serious information about North Korea, but it is an entertaining diary of two Swedes visiting North Korea for eight days.  The authors have studied North Korea extensively so they pepper their diary with many interesting facts and anecdotes, but this book doesn’t present that information in an organized fashion. It still makes for interesting reading.
 
My Holiday in North Korea: the Funniest/Worst Place on Earth by Wendy E. Simmons
Very heavily and beautifully illustrated, this book is something of a guilty pleasure. The author is merciless in ridiculing the country and she sometimes shows no empathy for iteven referring to North Korea as NoKo. The images she conveys are very funny, and having traveled in 1989 Russia, I could relate well to some of the situations she describes in a land where nothing can be negotiated or challenged. The author doesn’t seem to take the hardships of the people in North Korea seriously and her immaturity is embarrassing at times, but I couldn’t help but find the stories she told amusing. So if you want to get a bit of perspective on some of the real life oddities of existence in North Korea, and you can tolerate the lack of context, you might find this book useful.