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North Korea Journal

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THE BOOK BEHIND THE HIT DOCUMENTARY A glimpse of life inside the world’s most secretive country, as told by Britain’s best-loved travel writer. In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the THE BOOK BEHIND THE HIT DOCUMENTARY A glimpse of life inside the world’s most secretive country, as told by Britain’s best-loved travel writer. In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the countryside has barely moved beyond a centuries-old peasant economy but where the cities have gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious underground train stations. His resulting documentary for Channel 5 was widely acclaimed. Now he shares his day-by-day diary of his visit, in which he describes not only what he saw – and his fleeting views of what the authorities didn’t want him to see – but recounts the conversations he had with the country’s inhabitants, talks candidly about his encounters with officialdom, and records his musings about a land wholly unlike any other he has ever visited – one that inspires fascination and fear in equal measure. Written with Palin’s trademark warmth and wit, and illustrated with beautiful colour photographs throughout, the journal offers a rare insight into the North Korea behind the headlines.


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THE BOOK BEHIND THE HIT DOCUMENTARY A glimpse of life inside the world’s most secretive country, as told by Britain’s best-loved travel writer. In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the THE BOOK BEHIND THE HIT DOCUMENTARY A glimpse of life inside the world’s most secretive country, as told by Britain’s best-loved travel writer. In May 2018, former Monty Python stalwart and intrepid globetrotter Michael Palin spent two weeks in the notoriously secretive Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a cut-off land without internet or phone signal, where the countryside has barely moved beyond a centuries-old peasant economy but where the cities have gleaming skyscrapers and luxurious underground train stations. His resulting documentary for Channel 5 was widely acclaimed. Now he shares his day-by-day diary of his visit, in which he describes not only what he saw – and his fleeting views of what the authorities didn’t want him to see – but recounts the conversations he had with the country’s inhabitants, talks candidly about his encounters with officialdom, and records his musings about a land wholly unlike any other he has ever visited – one that inspires fascination and fear in equal measure. Written with Palin’s trademark warmth and wit, and illustrated with beautiful colour photographs throughout, the journal offers a rare insight into the North Korea behind the headlines.

30 review for North Korea Journal

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    This book is based on Michael Palin's two week trip to North Korea, where he filmed a mini-series. It's a good read. I've watched many North Korean documentaries because I find the country fascinating, so I didn't really get any new information by reading this book. However, I did like hearing about his conversations with the people who lived there, and how he would try and sneak questions in which he wasn't allowed to ask. If you want a peek at life in North Korea, this is a good, quick read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gannon

    Five stars easily earned. This is Michael Palin on top form and doing what he does best on travel- bringing humour to a situation and focusing on the people of a place in order to make the place seem more real- with snippets of history and politics peppered throughout. With a country such as North Korea, neither is easy to avoid (even personal history. When visiting the DMZ Michael notes to one of his tour guides that it has been twenty two years since he last stood at the DMZ- on the south Five stars easily earned. This is Michael Palin on top form and doing what he does best on travel- bringing humour to a situation and focusing on the people of a place in order to make the place seem more real- with snippets of history and politics peppered throughout. With a country such as North Korea, neither is easy to avoid (even personal history. When visiting the DMZ Michael notes to one of his tour guides that it has been twenty two years since he last stood at the DMZ- on the south side, listening to the American and South Korean interpretation of history). I doubt there is a person around who doesn't have some idea about North Korea, especially given the historic handshake between the leaders of North and South which happened in 2018 (the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, makes a brief appearance, as MP gets up one morning to go to breakfast to find him in the lobby of his hotel. Mr. Pompeo was on his way to negoitate the release of American citizens been held in North Korea). Overall, a great read. Shorter than his other books- but given the time frame which was given to stay in country, that is not surprising. Well worth the read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Piper Winchester

    The second I walked into the shop, one of the cashier came over to me and dragged me to this book "I have something you might like!" all happy. Interesting little book with photos. Seeing North Korea from a middle aged English man was a different experience. I enjoyed it

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    An account of Michael Palin's visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, written in diary form. The intrepid author attempts to widen his understanding of the world (and ours as well) during his travels to the Hermit Kingdom. It's an eerie representation of a dictatorship in which the people whom Palin and his crew are allowed to meet are characterized by Stepford-level patriotism and faith in their fearless leaders. The "journal" is succinct, perhaps owing to the limitations placed An account of Michael Palin's visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, written in diary form. The intrepid author attempts to widen his understanding of the world (and ours as well) during his travels to the Hermit Kingdom. It's an eerie representation of a dictatorship in which the people whom Palin and his crew are allowed to meet are characterized by Stepford-level patriotism and faith in their fearless leaders. The "journal" is succinct, perhaps owing to the limitations placed upon him during his stay, but his accounts still reveal his open mind and heart and the kindness of the people he meets on his journey. In the end, his experience is heavily curated and controlled and we end up with more questions than with improved insight.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chrisl

    Recommend ... informative, entertaining, quick read. Definitely enhanced my perception of the county. (Without the pictures the text would have a significantly lower page count.) The regional library has the book cataloged 951.9305. That puts it in the history section. I would have cataloged in 915 ..., putting on the 'Description and Travel' shelves.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    A really interesting and informative read with lovely photos. 8 out of 10

  7. 4 out of 5

    Anna Shelley

    A great insight and tour of North Korea, showing its people in a pleasant light, doing their best to accomodate Michael Palin's film crew and meet the needs of the documentary. Was very interesting to see the freedoms that the people are permitted to enjoy within the high regimented country. Engaging read, and interesting to see that it is a viable, albeit controlled, tourist destination.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    2.5 Stars! AN EASY READ ISN'T ALWAYS A GOOD READ... I’ve read a fair number of books on North Korea and enjoyed them all. This is not one of the better ones. It is nicely presented and there are some really good quality photographs in here and it is fair to say that it hides some surprising pockets of beauty within its repressive capital city and beyond. Palin is a nice chap, but then you probably already knew that, and in keeping with that, this is very much a lightweight read written in a light 2.5 Stars! AN EASY READ ISN'T ALWAYS A GOOD READ... I’ve read a fair number of books on North Korea and enjoyed them all. This is not one of the better ones. It is nicely presented and there are some really good quality photographs in here and it is fair to say that it hides some surprising pockets of beauty within its repressive capital city and beyond. Palin is a nice chap, but then you probably already knew that, and in keeping with that, this is very much a lightweight read written in a light hearted way. This bares many of the hallmarks of a TV tie-in, if you have watched a similar TV programme or read a similar book on North Korea, like this before then there really isn’t anything in here that you will not have come across before. There are no great revelations, very little excitement and overall it is a pretty tame and pedestrian affair. Comparing this to another recent book/TV tie-in by a fellow British septuagenarian comic entertainer, Billy Connolly, this falls way short of his high standard, which is as lively and engaging as his audio visual equivalent. There is simply nothing in here that is not already out there and I can’t really see the point in this as it has all been done before. It lacked charm, humour and felt flat, bland and didn’t present anything that would make it essential reading, and there are many more interesting books and stories on North Korea out there.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Foxley

    Based on Michael Palin's notes from his visit to North Korea for the 2018 ITN / Channel 5 documentary series, 'North Korea Journal' chronicles this journey in Palin's usual warm style. Seasoned NK-watchers are unlikely to find much that's new to them here, and those expecting some sort of exposé on the horrors of the country's ruling regime will find themselves disappointed. Palin's interest is very much on North Koreans as people - in that respect, it's a refreshing change to the usual Based on Michael Palin's notes from his visit to North Korea for the 2018 ITN / Channel 5 documentary series, 'North Korea Journal' chronicles this journey in Palin's usual warm style. Seasoned NK-watchers are unlikely to find much that's new to them here, and those expecting some sort of exposé on the horrors of the country's ruling regime will find themselves disappointed. Palin's interest is very much on North Koreans as people - in that respect, it's a refreshing change to the usual literature on the country. I very much enjoyed Palin's account of his travels, the fascination with the quirks and eccentricities of his destination, and a desire to get on with people and learn more about their way of life. The author is very conscious that he and his film crew are being given an officially-approved perspective on the country, though he often gently tries to push the boundaries of acceptable discussion whilst being respectful to his hosts - their guides are as much under scrutiny as they are. Ultimately, whilst this is a somewhat smaller volume than I'd have hoped for, it's a very enjoyable one, and a welcome addition to Palin's extensive collection of travel writing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becky Kelly

    Loved it. I love reading about this strange country, it's bizarre and interesting and not as awful as you first think. Michael Palin is the perfect person to write about this, kind and unjudgemental with wit and humour and many years of experience in travelling behind him. I suggest reading this to any Palin fans, anyone who finds North Korea interesting and anyone who likes travel writing of any sort. An easy 5 stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ian Smith

    NORTH KOREA JOURNAL by Michael Palin It was a short trip. It’s a short book and, there’s lot of photos, so don’t expect a month’s reading. It’s also well presented with lots of colour but, at the end of the day, it is what it purports to be, a travel journal of a fortnight in North Korea. He has a film crew with him so there’s no shortage of quality images but, if you’re expecting some revelations about the political situation, you won’t be entirely disappointed but there’s no shocking NORTH KOREA JOURNAL by Michael Palin It was a short trip. It’s a short book and, there’s lot of photos, so don’t expect a month’s reading. It’s also well presented with lots of colour but, at the end of the day, it is what it purports to be, a travel journal of a fortnight in North Korea. He has a film crew with him so there’s no shortage of quality images but, if you’re expecting some revelations about the political situation, you won’t be entirely disappointed but there’s no shocking disclosures. Music with messages about the supreme ruler and his ancestors are a constant, it seems wherever you are, but particularly in Pyongyang where there’s the world’s tallest unoccupied building, an amazing hotel called Ryugyong, completed in 1987. No explanation is offered. The trip to the southern border where restrictions were only eased days before they arrived was informative. This trip co-incided with the thawing of relations between the west and North Korea so there’s a degree of uncertainty as to how this affects Michael’s trip. Some places might be open, maybe not. An organised visit to a local school gives some insight. Michael trying to come out with a word or two of Korean and the students blurting back in clear English is one humorous moment. However, there are minders always present and all photography is checked at the end of the day. No shots of things that might make the regime look poorly; they will be eliminated. Thou shalt not take pictures of statues of the leaders from the rear. They get to a town on the east coast where a massive building project is under way in order to attract the tourist dollar. It covers 400 square kilometres. You can’t help but wonder just what attitudes will change and what comfort levels will be introduced because hot water was unavailable and the pillows were rock hard at one establishment the crew stayed at, though that wasn’t always the case. At least you’re fairly safe with the local airline, one of the safest on the planet. There are endless photos of Michael with his guides and other Korean staff, none of Michael with other tourists. In fact, they are notably in absentia, and that’s not only in the hotels. In one location they do come across two busloads though, notably Chinese. A visit to Mount Paektu, Korea’s highest on the Chinese border, is interesting and scenic. The roads go past some labour-intensive communal farming and they actually stop at one for a photo shoot. It’s an interesting read about an interesting place that may leave you shaking your head in disbelief in some places, but you’ll be better informed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    Enlightening look inside North Korea. Obviously not as genuine a reflection of life in the country, but as open as possible considering the circumstances. Sad that such a rich culture is cut off fromt he rest of the world.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    3.5. Nice book with telling pictures, which you can easily finish within a day or two. I've read a lot about (North) Korea, but mostly concerning history and politics. This is, like the title says, a down to earth journal of everyday life over there. Fun to read, enjoyed it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Fergus

    An enjoyable, light read. Some interesting observations, and it’s what isn’t said that offers a glimpse at what might be going on. However, it is still a Palin book, so he’s full of compassion for those he meets, etc.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kevin McMahon

    A bit too short this one only taking me a couple of hours to read it all but I guess that is indicative of the hermit country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A lot shorter than his other travel books, but still a fascinating read. It's hard to tell how much of what he was exposed to was propaganda, something which I feel troubles Michael Palin as an author as much as myself as a reader. I trust him, at least, to present as much truth as possible. It's a lovely little glimpse into this shuttered country, although the book does largely ignore the more sinister and inhumane aspects of North Korea's treatment of its people.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Howells

    My love of Michael Palin’s travel books now date back 30 years when I tuned in part way through ‘Around the World in 80 days’ back in 1989 and got the tie in book at Christmas that year. Agatha Christie & PD James aside, he’s probably the author I’ve had the longest relationship with. Every Christmas following a Palin Travelogue I’ve had the accompanying book. When Michael announced he was going travelling again I had high hopes that another Christmas would be bring a new Palin Hardback. This My love of Michael Palin’s travel books now date back 30 years when I tuned in part way through ‘Around the World in 80 days’ back in 1989 and got the tie in book at Christmas that year. Agatha Christie & PD James aside, he’s probably the author I’ve had the longest relationship with. Every Christmas following a Palin Travelogue I’ve had the accompanying book. When Michael announced he was going travelling again I had high hopes that another Christmas would be bring a new Palin Hardback. This time though it’s different. The programme - to North Korea - aired last year, but the book has only arrived in the last few weeks. Circumstances have meant I’ve bought it early. I have to say though, it was worth the wait. It’s a shorter book than his others (he was only in North Korea for 15 days) and I read it in a few hours. There’s something incredibly comforting about his prose, and even though his visit was very regimented (accompanied by many ‘minders’) he’s always looking to, politely, break the shackles and do something he’s not supposed to. This may very well be the last journey he makes - if it is then he’s gone out on a high.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    This is a short journal detailing Palin's days whilst in North Korea and gives a clear picture of his time there. I love Palin's writing a this was no different and though access to everyday life was heavily restricted he still managed to find something in those he met & gave me a better idea of life in the country.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sourojit Das

    An interesting, rather apolitical view of a whirlwind tour through the Hermit Kingdom.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    A brilliant companion to the TV series, would highly recommend to anyone interested in North Korea.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Howe

    I didn't see the TV series but this book was great as a stand-alone piece of work which was both snappy and insightful.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rajesh Amradi

    This book is how far my understanding of life in North Korea goes as of writing this review. A very strange country with even stranger laws or rather rules. Imagine not being able to put your hands in your pockets in a public place. The people of DPRK are of course forbidden from speaking about politics since there needs to be a divine faith in their great leaders. There is no question of doubting their leaders' supreme abilities. But then is this similar to Christianity in the earlier stages? This book is how far my understanding of life in North Korea goes as of writing this review. A very strange country with even stranger laws or rather rules. Imagine not being able to put your hands in your pockets in a public place. The people of DPRK are of course forbidden from speaking about politics since there needs to be a divine faith in their great leaders. There is no question of doubting their leaders' supreme abilities. But then is this similar to Christianity in the earlier stages? apparently there were double rainbows when Kim Song was born. The journal was quite concise and and yet delivered so much information as each line would describe something new about the country. And of course it's funny he still had to negotiate what he could write and what he couldn't. Made me keen on learning more about DPRK. I had no idea that there was a documentary series by Palin before buying this book but I'm glad I bought this book which gave me a behind the scenes before seeing the scenes. That's something new. Can't say it's a must read but it's quite enjoyable and eye opening.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Wragg

    Written more as a jolly. Preferred his earlier books. Disappointed

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ophelie

    Michael's journal is easy to ready and it is a pleasure to read all his comments about his journey

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jack Laffey

    A short snappy travelogue showcasing DPRK’s (brief) history in little snippets and delivered in Michael Palin‘s own recognisable and inimitable way. This book provides a brief but entertaining insight into the recent history of the DPRK and its current cultural habits, which along with DPRK’s closed nature, will leave you intrigued to learn a little bit more about the country itself. If you have a few spare hours on a weekend, or would like a light read, then I thoroughly recommend this book to A short snappy travelogue showcasing DPRK’s (brief) history in little snippets and delivered in Michael Palin‘s own recognisable and inimitable way. This book provides a brief but entertaining insight into the recent history of the DPRK and its current cultural habits, which along with DPRK’s closed nature, will leave you intrigued to learn a little bit more about the country itself. If you have a few spare hours on a weekend, or would like a light read, then I thoroughly recommend this book to you.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Rutzou

    This is a rather lightweight book, and not much more really than notes on a TV travel documentary shooting script, but as its North Korea its still interesting. In fact, if it wasn't North Korea I cannot see that it would be worth a TV piece at all. Michael Palin is entertaining and has managed to make something out of the material. It also makes you realise what a small and impoverished country North Korea actually is. Its another one of those times when I am glad I was born in Australia so This is a rather lightweight book, and not much more really than notes on a TV travel documentary shooting script, but as its North Korea its still interesting. In fact, if it wasn't North Korea I cannot see that it would be worth a TV piece at all. Michael Palin is entertaining and has managed to make something out of the material. It also makes you realise what a small and impoverished country North Korea actually is. Its another one of those times when I am glad I was born in Australia so special thanks to my great grandparents and especially my mum and dad.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a new insight into North Korea, you’re not going to find it here but if you’re looking for an old story from a new point of view with a bit of humorous commentary thrown in, then this is the book for you. Well worth a read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maurice Kelter

    A quick, easy but insightful read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Francis Pellow

    a short but essential companion to the the tv series

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian Moore

    Very easy and quick read but enjoyable, especially as planning a trip in the not too far future.

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