The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

Andrei Lankov. Oxford Univ., $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-996429-1
Not crazy, but crafty and cornered is the verdict of this probing, clear-eyed study of the world’s most irascible dictatorship. Lankov (From Stalin to Kim Il Sung), a historian at Seoul’s Koomkin University, traces the entrenchment of North Korea’s uniquely totalitarian brand of communism, with its backward and inefficient state-run economy, all-encompassing police state, hostility to outside influences, and hysterical worship of despot Kim Il-Sung and his descendants. Yet he discerns an underlying rationality to the regime, especially as its economy has reverted to illegal private markets after the crisis and famine of the 1990s. North Korea’s leaders, he argues, cannot undertake Chinese-style capitalist reforms for fear that opening the system would lead to their overthrow and reunification with South Korea; their only option, he contends, is to continue using nuclear threats and Machiavellian diplomacy to extort foreign aid to prop up the regime. Drawing on his experiences living in the country and extensive contacts with North Korean exiles, Lankov’s perceptive account registers the country’s dysfunctions, and the adaptations ordinary people make to ease them. Lankov’s is one of the best and most accessible recent accounts of this seemingly outlandish nation, and the book eschews North Korea’s lurid stereotypes to reveal a stunted normalcy. Agent: Andy Ross, the Andy Ross Agency. (May)
Reviewed on: 01/28/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
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