cover image All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea

All Monsters Must Die: An Excursion to North Korea

Magnus Bartas and Fredrik Ekman, trans. from Swedish by Saskia Vogel. House of Anansi (PGW/Perseus, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $22.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-77089-880-6

Odds were against this frequently surreal travelogue being so fully absorbing and successful. Foreigners traveling through North Korea by bus for just eight days in 2008 are unlikely to be able to reveal much about one of the most mysterious nations on the planet. Their journey is regimented, rigidly censored, and restricted to officially sanctioned tourist stops designed to showcase the glorious leader and the country's heavenly destiny, making it hard to discern what's real, what's a state-sponsored illusion, or very much of anything about the people. But the Swedish authors are the best kind of tour guides %E2%80%94 quick-witted, skeptical, and informative. They take impressively educational detours and are expert portraitists (and occasional satirists), whether they are representing their prickly fellow tourists, officious chaperones, undernourished roadside peasants, or harried restaurateurs. Even though they are permitted to view very little and nearly every word they hear in translation is scripted, the pair manage to paint a convincing picture of a bizarre, comic, and profoundly Orwellian land where newspeak and doublethink are everyday norms. Given the scarce source material, these travelers have spun a richly detailed tapestry. Agency: Kontext Agency (Sweden). (Jan.)