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.
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.