St. Petersurg Times on PYONGYANG

“Drawn from experience” / St. Petersburg Times / Jerry V. Haines / October 23, 2005

"Show, don't tell," writing teachers exhort. "Don't just tell me something was beautiful or horrible or interesting - show me."

The graphic novelist (formerly known as "comic book author") literally can "show" us what the author has seen and, even more than in photography, how he or she feels about it. Thus, the technique is eminently adaptable to travel writing.

Some of the books reviewed here are fiction, some are not, but each fulfills the travel writer's primary obligation to take us along.


Pyongyang by Guy Delisle (Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95)

The people of Pyongyang are busy: rehearsing for holiday festivals, "volunteering" to repair the North Korean capital's decaying infrastructure and preparing for "imminent attack."

"To hear them talk," writes Delisle, "the war ended last week and is due to resume any day now."

That probably is why they endure constant shortages and deprivations without complaint.

Delisle, a Canadian animator, is sent to Pyongyang by a French producer to repair a badly botched production. His efforts are frustrated by language and cultural differences, but in the course of his two-month stay he records his wry impressions of this most insular city.

Kim Jong-Il worship is intense, inescapable and, apparently, sincere. Kim's photograph and that of his father, Kim Il Sung, are everywhere, often precisely tilted so that reflections do not interfere with appreciating the images.

Delisle's official minders take him to cultural highlights, including the Museum of Imperialist Occupation and the International Friendship Museum, ironically, "dug into the side of the mountain to withstand nuclear attack."

- JERRY V. HAINES is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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