Please Recommend Books on North Korea
April 6, 2013 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Please share your recommendations on books about North Korea. I have seen this question from 2007 but I'd like books about history and culture as well as modern day North Korea. Fiction recommendations are also welcome. I have already read and enjoyed Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick. My only request is that they're available as an eBook - preferably as an ePub.
posted by poxandplague to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden has been sitting in my "to read" pile for some time -- the Amazon reviews look promising and his Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent was very, very good indeed.
posted by robtoo at 4:37 AM on April 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

A Year in Pyongyang is excellent and available to read online, as well as apparently now finally published.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:06 AM on April 6, 2013

Demick's Nothing to Envy is indeed great; these are all very informative, and all available as ebooks:
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Chol-hwan Kang & Pierre Rigoulot
The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters by B.R. Myers
The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin
posted by easily confused at 5:48 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I hated The Impossible State. I couldn't even finish it. It read like a some kind of governmental report and the parts about Kim Jong Un had clearly been thrown in at the last minute so that it could be the most up-to-date book about North Korea. I loved Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, which is much more journalistic. Both of them cover the whole history of North Korea from the birth/childhood of Kim Il Sung. There's more information in The Impossible State but Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is much more readable, and has more about North Korean culture, so I'd read that one first if I were you.
posted by mskyle at 6:13 AM on April 6, 2013

I don't know how you feel about graphic novels but Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea is wonderful. It's about a French animator's two month stay in NK.
posted by cooker girl at 6:18 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Way afield of the request for a book, but the North Korean Economy Watch blog has some fantastic and unusual reporting on what's going on economically inside North Korea. Also DailyNK is sometimes interesting, although it's pretty propagandaish (against the North Korean government). The official DPRK press release blog is also good for a view into the official state stance.
posted by Nelson at 6:53 AM on April 6, 2013

The Two Koreas is very thorough and readable.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:58 AM on April 6, 2013

I recommend James Church's four Inspector 0 novels.
posted by Carol Anne at 7:25 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Cleanest Race by B. R. Myers. It's about North Korean ideology and the foundation of the state. Explains a lot about the propaganda that we see.
posted by emkelley at 7:38 AM on April 6, 2013

I read Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader before I went and I felt it gave me a good insight into the history and the issues that are still important today.

I also enjoyed reading Nothing to Envy but wanted something with more of a factual overview and a look at the politics at the top rather than just about the lives of the defectors. Since I came back I've read several more, but didn't find any of them as good. If I were to go back, I would try to read more about the history of Korea generally before 1900 to get more of a sense of the overall culture and shared history of the Korean penninsula. I don't think I'll be going back any time soon though.
posted by kadia_a at 8:04 AM on April 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently read the novel Orphan Master's Son. It wasn't my favorite book ever and it was relentlessly depressing, but it was interesting to read a book in that setting and it conveyed the surrealism of the place.
posted by walla at 8:44 AM on April 6, 2013

Came to recommend The Cleanest Race, but I was beaten.
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2013

Escape from Camp 14 is amazing. It's about Shin Dong-Hyuk, a young man who was born in a North Korean prison camp via an "arranged marriage" between prisoners of the camp, and raised there as a slave, expected to work there until he died. It's written at about a 5th~6th-grade reading level, which I believe was intentional; it's frequently compared to The Diary of Anne Frank, and I could easily imagine this book being used in a school curriculum in a similar way. Also, half the proceeds of the book go directly to Shin Dong-Hyuk, so you might want to consider buying it over getting it from the library.

I also want to give The Impossible State some love; I found it fascinating. I'm not quite done with it, because (for me), it's the kind of book where every sentence presents new information. I don't want to miss anything, so I'm reading it slowly to let it soak in. It also has an extensive bibliography (referenced in footnotes), which lead to great starting points to more literature about North Korea. I cannot recommend it enough.

Finally, if you're committed to the ePub format, the Calibre ebook management software converts most formats. There are also lots of online bookstores besides Amazon that sell ebooks: I got The Impossible State from, though it was much cheaper when I bought it.
posted by homodachi at 9:45 AM on April 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Came into plug Krys Lee's collection of short stories, Drifting House. The title story is set in North Korea. She's deeply committed to supporting North Korean defectors in South Korea.

Not a book, but my favorite "slice of life" on North Korea is A State of Mind. The tendency to other and exoticize North Korea is seemingly irresistible to many Westerners, but this documentary on two teenage participants in the Mass Games is immune to such laziness. Really really beautiful.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:15 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Er, not to say that North Korea isn't a profoundly unsettling regime. But people are people, you know? I'm also a fan of Barbara Demick for her ability to reveal people not puppets.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:16 PM on April 8, 2013

Sorry I'm late getting back --- hope you're still checking this! This one is fiction, but also try The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim. It covers thirty years, 1915-WWII, from a Korean woman's childhood onwards, and the events she and her family live through. Very elegant, very informative.
posted by easily confused at 5:02 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

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