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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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