Another book on the DPRK hits the bookshops

by Philip Gowman on 27 August, 2012

in Books on DPRK, General book news

I always get depressed when I see a new book on the DPRK, because the DPRK is a depressing subject. Plus, it’s the thought that people are spending their lives trying to figure out this unfathomable regime. It’s the thought that there’s another 500 pages which I feel I ought to read, but which if past experience is anything to go by will not deliver 500 pages worth of value. It’s the thought that I’d much rather be reading something else Korea-related. But publishers keep printing new books on North Korea because, well, people buy them.

Victor Cha: The Impossible State (two different covers)

Victor Cha: The Impossible State, US and UK editions

Anyway, here’s another one which I saw in my local bookshop yesterday morning: Victor Cha’s The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (Ecco, 2012). Krys Lee has reviewed it in the Washington Post here and provides some useful positive quotes for inclusion in the publisher’s blurb, though the write-up is not glowing enough to make me want to fork out the £25 (and two inches of shelf space) asked for it.

I got fooled by the hype for another DPRK book earlier this year: Escape from Camp 14 – half the length of The Impossible State and a quick read, but only worth all of its 256 pages if you’re coming to the issue of North Korean prison camps completely fresh. I also got fooled by the hype for The Orphan Master’s Son, a strange comedy thriller also published this year, which would probably have sunk without trace in the monthly rankings if the Dear Leader hadn’t recently passed away, bringing North Korea back into the news. Two DPRK-related books are more than enough for one year. And there’s still John Everard’s Only Beautiful Please to be read before I ever get to the latest one.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Hong August 30, 2012 at 9:48 am

Hey Philip!

I disagree about Escape from Camp 14…which reminds me I need to submit my review for it!

Philip Gowman August 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm

Maybe I was a bit harsh on Camp 14. It was interesting for being the story of someone who was actually born in a camp, thinking that camp life was normality.

I know it’s unrealistic to expect every new book one reads to be 100% new. Inevitably books, particularly on the DPRK, will cover old ground. But when one has limited time one resents having to spend time going over old ground. The details of prison camp life were for me similar enough to other testimonies including Aquariums of Pyongyang to make to make me skim-read a lot of it. I’m sure if I’d come to Camp 14 first I would be raving about it, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s coming new to the subject. Any book which informs a new audience about the evils perpetrated by probably the most odious regime on earth has got to be welcomed.

I started re-reading Camp 14 today, conscious that I haven’t reviewed it yet. But if you’re going to do a review, that’s even better because it saves me the trouble, and I can re-read Krys Lee’s Drifting House instead, which to me is completely new and rewarding ground.

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