Books: “A Capitalist in North Korea” reviewed by Leonid Petrov

[CanKor Brain Trust member Dr. Leonid Petrov is a Russian academic teaching Korean History and Language at the University of Sydney. He is also a Research Associate at the Australian National Uuniversity School of International, Political & Strategic Studies. This review is taken from “Leonid Petrov’s KOREA VISION”, a personal website representing his views and opinions about both North and South Korea. –CanKor]

A CAPITALIST IN NORTH KOREA: My seven years in the Hermit Kingdom, by Felix Abt. Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2012. ISBN (ePub Edition): 978-1-937572-92-1. Reviewed by CanKor Brain Trust member Leonid Petrov.

Capitalist in North KoreaThis new book on North Korea is extraordinary. Since the late 1990s the influx of analytical and documentary literature on North Korea can be broadly divided into two categories: those that exhibit the terrors of life in North Korea, and the rest that speculate on what is wrong with North Korea. Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who lived and worked in the last communist Hermit Kingdom for seven years, attempts to depict life in North Korea as “normal” despite overwhelming ideological pressure from within and the harsh treatment from foreign powers. To date, only a handful of famed historians, such as Bruce Cumings and Gavan McCormack, have succeeded in showing North Korea from such an unusual angle.

As a business entrepreneur, Felix Abt prefers to remain apolitical and impartial when sharing his thoughts and memories of the seven-year sojourn. His writing exhibits his love for Korea and genuine concern for its people. In his assessments of North Korea’s past and present, the author approaches all issues from a human (and humanistic) perspective, attempting to present life in the country sans political or ideological colouring. But documenting everyday life in the DPRK “as it is” is often inherently counterproductive to the goal of presenting North Korea as “normal” or even on the road to normality. Snapshots of life in North Korea, more often than not, exhibit the miserable lives of the common people alongside the growing wealth of the privileged and trusted groups in the capital, Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

Why another blog on North Korea?

Satellite picture displaying the Korean penins...

Satellite picture displaying the Korean peninsula at night

By Timothy Savage, former CanKor Blog editor.

Commenting on the goings-on in the “Hermit Kingdom” has become something of a growth industry, with a proliferation of blogs of various quality and reliability. How do we differentiate ourselves within this ever-growing blogosphere? To start with, while we may be coming into blogging somewhat late in the game, we’re hardly neophytes when it comes to the DPRK. CanKor has been providing information on North Korea for the last decade. Each contributor to The Cankor Blog has a long professional experience with the DPRK. While we can’t claim to know everything that’s going on inside that country (no one can), we believe that the expertise and insight that our contributors bring to the discussion can promote better understanding of the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Secondly, The Cankor Blog is unique in its focus on the efforts of non-6P countries-those who have been on the sidelines of the Six-Party Talks: middle powers like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the EU states, and Asian nations who are not immediate neighbours of Korea. These countries play an important but often overlooked role in efforts to draw North Korea out of its isolation and alleviate its chronic humanitarian crisis. As much as possible, we want to highlight the engagement being carried out by governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations that often gets lost in the debate over the nuclear and succession issues.

Above all, we approach this task with a dose of humility, recognizing that no one can really know more than a small piece of the puzzle that is North Korea. We welcome feedback from our readers to challenge us when we start to assume more than we know, or to alert us to aspects of the issues that we might have missed. We hope that by adding our own small piece, we can shed a little light and help identify a bit of signal among all the noise.

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