Law and Conversation

December 21, 2011

North Korea in recent literature

Filed under: Books and writing,graphic novels,interviews — Helen Gunnarsson @ 10:41 am
Tags: , , ,

With Kim Jong Il’s sudden death a few days ago, it seems like the right time to re-post this link to the North Korean Random Insult Generator, which I originally came across on Zimbabwean lawyer and writer Petina Gappah’s blog.

I wonder what sort of literature is being produced in North Korea these days. Though legal restrictions can,  ironically, actually foster the creativity of artists and writers–see the movies and comics created during the middle part of the 20th century in the US, for example–writers who publish works under totalitarian regimes sometimes of necessity obscure their messages so much that the reader has to work really, really hard. The Man Booker International Prize winner Ismail Kadare is one such writer. That’s certainly a high degree of creativity, and some readers love this challenge. Others can find it so frustrating as to render the works unenjoyable and even inaccessible.

I can’t claim to know much about North Korea, but, then again, I guess I’m in good company: even high-level government intelligence agencies didn’t find out about Kim’s death until the North Korean government chose to announce it. Two books about the country by western writers who visited there are Canadian artist Guy DeLisle’s “Pyongyang,” a graphic novel, and Los Angeles Times reporter Barbara Demick’s “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.” You can listen to an interesting interview with Demick from the Sydney Writers’ Festival on The Book Show’s website.

And speaking of The Book Show, one of my very favorite podcasts for several years, I must say how disappointed I was to read of the departure of its marvelous host, Ramona Koval and of its evident impending demise. Not that the opinion of one US listener will matter to the Australian Powers That Be, but this seems to me a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken.

As the end of 2011 approaches, what are you reading?

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