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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy…

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (original 2004; edition 2007)

by Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (Translator)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,228576,481 (3.96)118
Title:Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Authors:Guy Delisle
Other authors:Helge Dascher (Translator)
Info:Drawn and Quarterly (2007), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 176 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:graphic novel, Pyongyang, North Korea, animation, totalitarianism, 1984, dark humor

Work details

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (2004)

  1. 132
    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (lorax)
    lorax: Pyongyang is an outsider's view of the one part of the country where foreigners are generally permitted; Nothing to Envy is an inside look at ordinary life elsewhere in the country where the situation is even grimmer.
  2. 60
    Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle (2810michael)
  3. 20
    Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China by Guy Delisle (Ashles)
  4. 10
    Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle (Serviette)
  5. 00
    Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob by Jenny Jaeckel (legxleg)
    legxleg: Both are graphic novel memoirs about trips to foreign countries. Please note that Siberiak is about the author's experiences as a teenager while the narrator of Pyongyang is an adult, and I think that their ages do necessarily inform their experiences.
  6. 00
    Une vie chinoise, Tome 1 : Le temps du père by Kunwu Li (Henrik_Madsen)

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English (46)  Spanish (3)  Finnish (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  All (57)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Any coverage of civilian life in North Korea will be fascinating, and Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea doesn't challenge those expectations. Delisle worked as an animator for 2 months in Pyongyang, and his experience during those two months doesn't say anything new or particularly exciting compared to other literature or documentaries out there, but it's still an engaging format and an engaging experience.

Pyongyang's a shell of a city, where everyone's role is to keep up appearances: Make the city and the country look prosperous and content and happy. It's all very blatantly Nineteen Eighty-Four.

[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

Delisle wrote this mostly working with that blatant comparison. His adventure starts with him smuggling in a single copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and quotes and comparisons are littered throughout his narrative, along with philosophical pondering on the meaning of George Orwell's writing. It's aggravatingly shallow. He's also pretty grumpy throughout his stay, and his reflections are condescending towards everyone he meets in-country. In that respect, he's a lot like Paul Theroux, but without the writing chops.

But is it interesting? Of course! When he's not staring at walls, getting drunk with other imported animators, or mocking locals, it's fascinating to get tours of North Korea's plethora of museums and monuments dedicated to its leader(s), or see its bungled architecture. We frequently run into 'volunteer' civilians helping improve the country by watering the grass...with small buckets, or cutting grass on the roadside...with scissors, using a DIY, extremely shaky weighted pulley system to construct (or appear to construct) buildings. It's all very surreal and fascinating, even if Delisle's writing, commentary, and art are mostly uninteresting. ( )
4 vote alaskayo | Jun 19, 2016 |
Interesting travelogue; a French animator's two months working in North Korea. ( )
  catfantastic | Aug 26, 2015 |
A truly enjoyable book, about a country a know little about, I dont yet own a copy but in the future I would like to add it to my collection. Very good indeed. ( )
  Claire5555 | Feb 20, 2015 |
Guy Delisle had the, uh, "pleasure" to visit North Korea for 2 months in 2001 to work as an animator for a children's cartoon series. This is naturally an uncomfortable experience, considering the things that are happening in that particular country, and Delisle almost does a fantastic job of conveying some of the trials they are facing in this graphic memoir...the key word being almost. It falls a little short, mostly because Delisle is kind of a douche.

First of, yes, many people are fascinated (and mortified by) North Korean politics, and I don't really have any problem with anything related to that in this book. What irked me was the underlying racism. It's not blatant, or overly aggressive, but it was there all the same. For example, when he sees his hotel room he describes it as "cold and impersonal, just like they like them in Asia." Um, what? How can you use something like that to criticize an entire continent? Aren't most hotel rooms cold and impersonal? It's not huge, but he drops little comments like that throughout much of the book, and it was a HUGE distraction from what should havebeen the focus of the store - the tense and scary nature of North Korean culture.

If you are interested in North Korea and like the graphic memoir format then yes, this is a perfectly acceptable book. The author does have some important information to convey and it does depict some of the bad things happening there. I just feel morally irresponsible for giving this a higher rating than I have. This could have been an amazing read, had the author not shot himself in the foot. ( )
2 vote Ape | Nov 13, 2014 |
I really enjoyed Delisle's graphic novels about Jerusalem and Burma, where he described how his family lived during his wife's stints with Doctors Without Borders. Both gave me a feel for the country and life as a father to a young child. Alas, Delisle's family was not with him in Pyongyang (he was there to do Animation work for only two months) because they might have put him into a better mood and put him in a less reckless state of mind.

He complains. A lot. It is a shame he seems surprised that his food choices are limited in a country where people are starving, and also a shame that while he is in a rigid and repressive country he isn't surprised to have the freedom to go to a nightclub and a casino and get drunk. A lot.

All in all, I'm inclined to think that being around Mr. Delisle didn't improve his guide and translator's views of Westerners. Delisle notes the fear that many have of being sent to re-education camps, but knowing of this fear doesn't stop him from handing a copy of Orwell's 1984 to one of his North Korean guides. Good grief. And the drunken shenanigans of his crowd demonstrate the tremendous privilege they take for granted--that they will not be arrested for bad behavior. Who in their right mind would flick the power switch on and off on any revolving restaurant, let alone one that is in Pyongyang?

I will say that I appreciated the sadness Delisle conveyed in the depictions of that dark turtle tank. ( )
3 vote kivarson | Nov 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
I appreciated seeing such a personal view of a country I’ll never visit. I love comics that can expand my boundaries this way.
Delisle's evocative pencil drawings are suited to depicting a colourless, twilight world in which the state is all, with his rudimentary characters inhabiting vast and much more detailed architectural environments. Less well drawn are the inner lives of Pyongyang's citizens.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, David Thompson (Oct 15, 2006)
North Korea is a country suffering in more ways than the author makes note of and I’m sure any reader could surmise this from his account, but rather than mine the heart of this suffering, Delisle achieves the literary equivalent of hiding a paraplegic’s wheelchair.
So while Pyongyang reads like cartoonist Craig Thompson’s breezy and introspective European travel diary, Carnet de Voyage, its content dictates that it be filed beside political artist Joe Sacco’s hard-hitting, from-the-trenches graphic novels about Sarajevo and Palestine – minus the first-hand accounts of violence, drama, and abject poverty. Because while a city can’t cry for help, maybe the odd cartoonist can act as a proxy.
This is a graphic novel so well crafted that the text begins to work as secondary illustration: propaganda begins to flow freely from each cell, like the canned music and broadcast exhortations that trail into the 15th floor hotel rooms; a small frame exchange between Delisle and his handlers perfectly sets up a full-page illustration of the dialogue’s own irony.
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Book description
From Amazon: From Publishers Weekly-

In 2001, French-Canadian cartoonist Delisle traveled to North Korea on a work visa to supervise the animation of a children's cartoon show for two months. While there, he got a rare chance to observe firsthand one of the last remaining totalitarian Communist societies. He also got crappy ice cream, a barrage of propaganda and a chance to fly paper airplanes out of his 15th-floor hotel window. Combining a gift for anecdote and an ear for absurd dialogue, Delisle's retelling of his adventures makes a gently humorous counterpoint to the daily news stories about the axis of evil, a Lost in Translation for the Communist world. Delisle shifts between accounts of his work as an animator and life as a visitor in a country where all foreigners take up only two floors of a 50-story hotel. Delisle's simple but expressive art works well with his account, humanizing the few North Koreans he gets to know (including "Comrade Guide" and "Comrade Translator"), and facilitating digressions into North Korean history and various bizarre happenings involving brandy and bear cubs. Pyongyang will appeal to multiple audiences: current events buffs, Persepolis fans and those who just love a good yarn.
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One of the few Westerners granted access to North Korea documents his observations of the secretive society in this graphic travelogue that depicts the cultural alienation, boredom, and desires of ordinary North Koreans.

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