All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea

All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea by Magnus Bärtås and Fredrik Ekman (translated by Saskia Vogel) is about two Swedes’ visit to the DPRK in 2008. Bärtås and Ekman spent eight days in the North and this is their brief travel diary. I recalled everything about their trip from my own time there. Since I spent eighteen days in the North I feel spoiled by the things I got to see that the authors didn’t, and while I certainly shared laughs over the same experiences (and I am convinced the authors and I encountered some of the same officials and tour guides on our respective trips) I felt I could have done a better job writing a travel story. An eight-day trip was too short to get into because it’s over before you know it.

Bärtås and Ekman and I shared the same experiences with disobedient fellow travellers threatening the travel plans for the entire group. In my small group of sixteen, there were four who were under the watchful eye of the guides for taking unauthorized photos. Most of us, however, had proved our obedience to the rules, and were able to photograph whatever we wanted. However, when Bärtås and Ekman’s group left the DPRK:

“The agents rummage through our luggage. Our camera is inspected. The customs officers look at all the pictures on the digital cameras. Pictures that are not suitable are deleted, but it happens randomly. No one gets to keep pictures of ox-drawn carts–that might imply the country is behind in its development.”

So I suppose no one got to keep a picture such as this one that I took:

The authors raved about Guy Delisle’s graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea and I’m glad they gave a plug for his book. It is a must for anyone interested in the DPRK, and especially for anyone planning a trip there.

The authors and I visited Mount Paektu, the ancestral home of the Korean people. It is a beautiful mountain with a blue crater lake. Bärtås and Ekman must have seen it on a cloudless day. I thought the reference to Iceland was quite striking, seeing as I have just returned from there:

“Baekdu is the highest point on the entire Korean peninsula. The rusty red and orange streaks of lava on the volcanic rock remind us of Iceland’s landscape. The haze between the distant, bluish ridges of Manchuria creates a depth of field like stained glass.”

One highlight of All Monsters Must Die was the authors’ interview with Choi Eun-hee, a South Korean actress who was kidnapped under the orders of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Her former husband, film director Shin Sang-ok was also kidnapped and they were held captive for eight years, undergoing indoctrination and imprisonment, all for the sake of producing movies for the Dear Leader and the DPRK regime.

The translation was fine yet there were numerous instances where the English definite article was missing. Such is the case with Swedish definite articles: they get tagged on at the end of the noun and thus might be missed in translation. Vogel made one translating error, calling a man’s wife’s father his stepfather instead of his father-in-law. The authors made references to several books about North Korea that I had never heard of before, especially memoirs, so I will investigate these.

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