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Review: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha My rating: 4 of 5 stars This book gives a unique perspective on North Korea as it is written by a man who held a senior position in the White House as an advisor to the President on East Asian affairs. Victor Cha’s experience extended to a an official visit to Pyongyang but perhaps the best insights can be gained from his direct meetings with DPRK officials to discuss the various international concerns on the Korean Peninsula. Obviously, one has to take account that there is a potential bias as it is written ‘by the enemy’ of North Korea. It seems clear to me, however, that the author has a deep concern for the Korean people and I think that his judgements and analyses are fair and educated based on what I have already learnt about the global anomaly that exists in this far east region. Nuclear provocations are covered in detail and I found the insights into the human rights situation in the DPRK to be invaluable. It was quite surprising to hear about George W Bush’s genuine concern for the victims of the human rights abuses in this isolated state. I found that the author has some very interesting ideas on how to resolve the whole situation. He stated some of the problems that reunification faces but his views were in general quite positive. I think he sees a transition to peaceful unification as being a possibility and the regime seems quite likely to be undermined by the gradual dispersal of information about the world to the North Korean people. I’d recommend the book as essential to all those who share an interest in developments in North Korea. View all my reviews

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Review: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a well-written gripping journalistic account of North Korean defectors, describing their lives in the DPRK. I have to question whether the accounts are completely truthful and genuine as so much information which emerges from North Korea tends to be biased. However, the accounts make good reading and describe a truly Orwellian culture that is very unlike our own Western lifestyles. To a romantic socialist, some of what may appear is idyllic, but as is often the case, the horrors of famine and gulags are all too apparent. There is much quaintness in many of the stories, of simple love, of familial ties, of the teaching of children. The emotions felt by North Koreans are just the same as elsewhere in the world. However, it seems as though the state control of all aspects of life is extremely strict. The failure of the food supply system and the healthcare that was a real high point of the earlier years of the DPRK, is all to evident as the communist world collapsed in the late 1980s. One of the most intriguing aspects of the book is the way in which the defectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. If ever the two Koreas are united, there is a massive gulf between the cultures which I don’t think can be bridged too easily. Overall, the book is quite disturbing, but still very gripping. I think it should be studied in context alongside other texts on Korea. View all my reviews

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