North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, written by Daniel Tudor & James Pearson, is a recently released, informative peek into the modern day Hermit Kingdom. This is the most unique book that I remember reading about North Korea because it focuses on the reality of life in modern North Korea instead of the state sponsored narrative of which most people are familiar.
North Korea Confidential: Private Markets, Fashion Trends, Prison Camps, Dissenters and Defectors, as the short and sweet title makes quite clear, focuses on a wide range of activities and situations in the lives of North Korean citizens. The authors attempt to dispel the myth that all North Korean people are simply puppets who blindly believe all of the lies that the Kim government propagates. Some of the most fascinating sections shed light on the illegal (yet tolerated out of necessity) capitalist markets run by North Korean women and the inevitable infiltration of outside influences into the country via USB drives. The traditional notions of a male run society and the Kim family’s claim that North Korea is a paradise compared to the rest of the world have been shattered by these changes.
The authors indicate that the famine in the 1990s greatly weakened the Kim family’s hold on daily activities within the country. Since people were forced to buy and sell for food instead of relying on the government’s support, cracks appeared in the Kim’s system that widened considerably ever since. The growing autonomy of North Koreans is a recurring theme throughout each chapter which include the following major topics: North Korean markets, leisure time, leadership, crime and punishment, fashion, communications, and social divisions. Evidently, there is almost nothing (from covering up illegal activities to obtaining travel permits) that the right bribe will not accomplish in modern day North Korea.
North Korea Confidential is a comprehensive look at North Korean society, although I would prefer a little more depth to the book as a whole. Even including sections such as the index, the book comes in at a bit shy of 200 hundred pages. More direct quotes and interviews with North Korean people (although they would probably need to be anonymous) would have been an excellent addition to the authors’ research and commentary.
I highly recommend North Korea Confidential to all readers who are fascinated by the most unusual country in the world today. This book humanizes the North Korean people, who generally are viewed as robotic drones of their “Dear Leader.” After reading North Korea Confidential, readers will realize that the North Korean people deserve more credit and respect than they are normally afforded in today’s media.