PYONGYANG reviewed in Vancouver's GEORGIA STRAIGHT

“Inside the Axis of Evil” / Georgia Straight / Carolyn Ali / December 15, 2005

There are some destinations that most travellers will only ever visit vicariously, no matter how intriguing they may be. North Korea is one such place, and Quebec-born Guy Delisle was one of the few westerners allowed in, when he spent six months working there for a French film-animation studio. His graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) not only gives a peek inside one of the world’s most secretive nations, it’s also downright hilarious. Who could resist poking fun at a regime devoted to Kim Il-sung, who, despite his death in 1994, is still “eternal president”?

Delisle’s cartoons portray his frustration and fascination as he tries to see behind the official façade presented by his state-sanctioned guide and interpreter. The graphics capture bleak absurdities that words couldn’t convey: his 50-storey hotel, which puts all foreigners on the 15th floor, the only one that’s lit; the total absence of streetlights at night; and the dark, robotic expressions of citizens who never seem to deviate from the party line. Do they actually believe all the propaganda? Delisle offers his smuggled-in copy of George Orwell’s 1984 to his guide and solicits comments.

This book would make great tree-side reading for expats or frequent business travellers, who can relate to Delisle’s Lost in Translation–style vignettes, as well as for anyone who’s yearned to veer off the official tour.


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