Comrades and Strangers

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Comrades and Strangers: Behind the Closed Doors of North Korea

This memoir by Michael Harrold is a fascinating look at a communist country who few know about and even fewer understand. Harrold claims that the people of North Korea are "bound by the malignant shackles of a flawed ideology that prevents people from exercising their basic freedoms, an ideology that, as its inherent evil festered and made self-destruction more likely, might lash our in a futile act of defiance and destroy us all. No where were the oppression and the menace thought to be more malevolent than in North Korea ". His journey begins on 1986 in the city of Pyongyang and lasts for seven long years. As the first Briton to live and work in North Korea since the country was founded, one would think that Harrold would be able to show how that presumption is fundamentally incorrect and can easily be bridged "over a pint or two of beer". However, instead of proving why that is wrong we see through his book that communism and North Koreans do not allow "ideologies and cultures to intertwine naturally and become unraveled" despite the fact that we all "desire to make the best out of life". We learn through his editing, arguing, drinking, sightseeing as well as a few conversations inside some North Korean houses that "poverty, state belligerence and intrusive security agencies had strong associations with an ideology that seemed so benign". What Harrold offers about North Korea are his observations and nothing more. Harrold observed all events through the prism of being a "capitalist foreigner". He was kept at a significant distance from everything never being able to bridge the gap between comrade and stranger. The greatest observation about North Korea and communism in general that Harrold makes is that the same people who can invite you to dinner at their house or a picnic in the mountains can also be the people who slice open your suitcase looking for your diary. This constant distrust smothers all positive aspects of communism and isolates North Korea, even if one infiltrates into its catacombs, they will never get a real picture, because it does not exist. Distrust guides communism, and I'd take self-interest any day over that.

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