Pyongyang, Guy Delisle

I first heard about Guy Delisle over at A Life in Books, when Lesley reviewed Pyongyang, and since then it seems he’s been popping up all over the place.  Delisle writes travelogues in comics form of the time he has spent living in countries with oppressive regimes, which is a slightly weird thing to be known for, but never mind.  Pyongyang chronicles Delisle’s two-month stay in North Korea, where he is supervising the animation of a children’s cartoon.

From the first page I loved Pyongyang.  Delisle starts by excerpting the travel information he’s received about going to North Korea.  “Do not do anything on your own,” says one of them, and indeed Delisle is not supposed to go anywhere without his guide.  The guide is responsible for ensuring that Delisle sees and hears the best of North Korea, and is always taking him to see monuments of Kim Jong-Il, or pointing out “volunteers” cleaning up roads or picking up trash.

Delisle has an excellent eye for small, chilling details of life in North Korea.  At one point he notes that only married men with children are permitted to travel outside of North Korea.  He leaves it at that, but the implication is obvious.  What creeped me out the most is when Delisle realizes he hasn’t seen any handicapped people since coming to North Korea.  He asks his guide, and the guide says there are none.  Everyone in North Korea is born strong and healthy and intelligent.

I always think it must be very difficult to end a travelogue.  The obvious ending to a travelogue is, And then I went home, but that’s not necessarily very satisfying, particularly if, as in Delisle’s case, you have been writing about some serious, important issues.  Pyongyang doesn’t just end, it has an ending.  Props, Guy Delisle.

I am afraid that Burma Chronicles will be unable to meet the standard set by Pyongyang, but so far it is also good.  Updates as warranted.  This review brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge!  Which I’d completely forgotten about, along with all my other challenges, until I noticed that someone else had read Pyongyang for the Graphic Novels Challenge, so I guess I cannot really say that this review was, in fact, brought to you by the Graphic Novels Challenge.  That reminds me, I bet some of the books I have read recently can go towards some of my other challenges, and I didn’t even notice.  Dear, dear, dear, I am plainly teetering on the edge of senility here.

Other people reviewed it too:

A Life in Books
A Striped Armchair
The Captive Reader
The Bookling
Helen’s Book Blog

Have I missed yours?  Tell me and I’ll add a link!

Time Was Soft There, Jeremy Mercer

Two months before I’d had a high-profile job with an enviable salary, a sleek black German sedan on lease, an apartment in a fashionable downtown neighborhood, and a collection of not-so-inexpensive shirts and jackets hanging in the closet. Now, there were a few hundred dollars in my pocket, no job or prospect thereof, some clothes jammed into an old handbag, and a bed in a tattered bookstore to call home. All things considered, I couldn’t have been happier.

Recommended by: Kate’s Book Blog

I really liked the idea of this book. It’s a memoir written by a chap who went to live at Shakespeare & Co., a bookshop and temporary residence for writers and artists in Paris. I like memoirs and I like bookshops (God knows) and I like places that collect interesting people; all of these things I like, but I was bored with Time Was Soft There. I think Jeremy Mercer is just not that great a writer. I have probably been spoiled by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but when I read a book about all the people in some place, I want them to be interesting and, I don’t know, vivid. Not so much here. I think it’s a shame, because there’s an interesting story to be told here, and Jeremy Mercer just doesn’t do it very well.