In a Nutshell
Humans have a tendency to want to see what cannot be seen. We want to explore space. We want to travel back in time. We want paparazzi photos of the latest celebrity wedding. And OMG, we need cronuts.
Then there’s the most impossible place to see on Earth. Not the top of Mount Everest or the icy shores of Antarctica, but North Korea. Unless you’re Dennis Rodman, chances are you’ll never get to see what’s it like to live in the world’s most secluded nation.
And that’s a problem. North Korea is a hot-button topic in the news, and having missiles pointed at you kind of makes you nervous. Before we jump to conclusions, we need to analyze the situation. But how can we understand what we can’t see?
Pyongyang is the story of a Quebecois cartoonist named Guy Delisle who traveled to North Korea in 2003. There’s not a plot, really. Guy just goes around describing what he sees: poverty, isolation, and lots of sexy photos of Kim Jong-Il. It’s basically the nonfiction version of Team America.
Guy Delisle (pronounced Ghee Duh-leel) gets around. He’s a world traveler. He’s been to China, Burma, Jerusalem, and, of course, Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Miraculously, he’s lived to tell these tales.
And what tales they are. Delisle’s books have been translated into about as many languages as are spoken in all the countries he’s visited, and Pyongyang has been optioned for feature film treatment.
So while we definitely don’t want to peek into Kim Jong-Un’s private boudoir, we definitely want to get a peek at North Korea on street level. Google Earth just isn’t going to cut it. (Seriously: just try it.) Thankfully, we have Guy Delisle and Pyongyang to get us there.
Reading a book is a lot cheaper than a plane ticket, and we don’t have to give up our human rights to do it.
Why Should I Care?
A whole country isolating itself from the world is a little unusual. It’s like when your little brother has been in the bathroom for a really long time and you wonder just what he’s doing in there… and it turns out he’s been building a great big honking nuclear warhead. That is scary.
The North Koreans are scared of the rest of the world, too. Now, one typical reaction to fear is to blow something up. The lil’ Kims of Korea, Kim Jong-Un and the late Kim Jong-Il, often threaten to blow up various countries around the world—and, if they ever do, you can bet that whoever they target will retaliate in kind.
If only we could get to know each other, maybe things wouldn’t be so scary. The U.S. can share its love of basketball. The North Koreans can share their love of kimchi—the ones who aren’t dying of famine, that is.
Pyongyang is an attempt at a great big hug-off with North Korea, but it doesn’t quite make it all the way. It’s more like the shy boy along the wall who just wants to dance with the popular girl, but all he can do is make eyes at her from across the room… and she just thinks he has allergies and a facial tic. But still, it’s a start toward coming to an understanding. Who will make the first move?