61 minutes | Jan 21st 2021

Andray Abrahamian, "Being in North Korea" (Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2019)

As well as presenting practical challenges, addressing the question ‘what is it like in North Korea?’ raises ethical concerns around who is entitled to interpret life in a place so often discussed in luridly exoticizing terms. The awareness of authorial position and sensitivity to shared humanity which runs through Andray Abrahamian’s Being in North Korea (Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2019) is thus one of its real strengths.

Weaving together a trove of insights into local society, politics and economics gleaned from years of visits to the country, including many trips as an organiser of local business workshops, Abrahamian offers a convincing and authoritative account of both lesser-known everyday North Korean affairs and clear-eyed interpretations of more familiar macro-level topics. Frank in its acknowledgement of the limits to what an outsider can know about a society that has made opacity the key to its very survival, this is a book which goes as far as anything by a Western outsider is likely to in showing readers what life is like there.

Ed Pulford is a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Manchester. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.

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