*The Cleanest Race*

This is a very interesting book about the ideologies behind North Korea.  The author is B.R. Myers and the subtitle is How North Koreans See Themselves — and Why it Matters.  Excerpt:

One searches these early works in vain for a sense of fraternity with the world proletariat.  The North Koreans saw no contradiction between regarding the USSR as developmentally superior on the one hand and morally inferior on the other.  (The parallel to how South Koreans have always viewed the United States is obvious.)  Efforts to keep this contempt a secret were undermined by over-confidence in the impenetrability of the Korean language and the inability of all nationalists to put themselves in a foreigner's shoes.  The Workers' Party was taken by surprise, for example, when Red Army authorities objected to a story about a thuggish Soviet soldier who mends his ways after encountering a saintly Korean street urchin — another child character symbolizing the purity of the race.

I  liked this bit as well:

The lack of conflict makes North Korean narratives seem dull even in comparison to Soviet fiction.  Rather than try to stimulate curiosity about what will happen next, directors and writers try to make one wonder what has already happened.  Films introduce characters in a certain situation (getting a medal, say), then go back and forth in time to explain how they got there.  Nowhere in the world do writers make such heavy use of the flashback.  But we should beware of assuing that people in the DPRK find these narratives as dull as we do.  The Korean aesthetic has traditionally been very tolerant of convention and formula.  (South Korean broadcasters rework the same few soap-opera plots every year).  According to refugee testimony, however, most North Koreans prefer stories set either in the "Yankee colony" or in pre-revolutionary times, with real villains and conflict.

I also recommend the new book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick.  Excerpt:

North Koreans have multiple words for prison in much the same way that the Inuit do for snow.

From the WSJ, here is a joint review of the two books.


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